Idaho History September 24, 2017

The Willey Ranch

South Fork of the Salmon River, Valley County, Idaho

Willey Family Genealogy


Compiled and edited by Eileen Duarte

Simeon A. (Sim) Willey and his wife Mary Alma Vickers homesteaded on the South Fork Salmon River in 1895. They had ten children, Ray, George, Arcie born 1982, Willys, Edith, Blanche born 1905 who married A. Gilbert McCoy, Earnest, Mary V. born 1908, Pearl born 1903 and Warner born 1900 married Margaret Lange. Sim died at is ranch in 1939. Norman Willey, Sim’s brother was Idaho’s second Governor.

source: “Free Land! Hopes and Hardships of Pioneers of Valley County, Idaho” by the Valley County History Project.
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Norman and Simeon Willey

by Sheila D. Reddy

… Norman Willey and his brother Simeon were born in New York State and educated there. Norman was twenty years older than Simeon, and he was working in the California gold fields when Simeon was born in 1859.

California was the training ground for early placer and quartz miners. By the time Norman came into the Idaho Territory in 1864, he understood the processes and the mechanics of mining, and the dynamics of living in a mining town. Willey settled in the Warren gold camp, and Simeon joined him there in the early 1880s.

Local newspapers, happy to receive word from the outlying mining camps, recognized Norman Willey’s correspondence as being far above average. The editors of the Boise and Lewiston newspapers were openly delighted to find a column from him in their in-coming mail. Willey later became friends with “Idaho Statesman” editor Milton Kelly; perhaps it was that friendship, combined with Norman’s interest in the political progress Idaho Territory was making towards statehood that drew Willey into a political career as a governor of Idaho.

Norman Willey’s term as governor was filled with strife and soon after he left office in 1893 he returned to the mines in California.

Simeon had married Mary Alma Vickers. Soon after Norman left Warren, Simeon, his young wife, and two small children packed their belongings and moved to a cabin on the South Fork of the Salmon River.

When Simeon made application for homestead on the South Fork ranch in 1918, he stated that during 26 years all members of the family were away from the claim only one night.

Homestead records indicate the Willey’s log ranch house was 40 by 60 feet, with an ell, 24 by 12 feet. This was a relatively large house. It was needed because the family had grown to nine children. The children attended school in a log bunkhouse on the ranch. One of their teachers was the famous pioneer, Mary Zumalt. Mary’s husband, Charles, drove the stage into Warren in the summer months and the mail sled in the winter, while Mary taught school.

One of the saddest facets of the Willey history took place in 1921. Penniless, Norman Willey’s eyesight and hearing began to fail and he moved to Kansas to be with a sister. He died there alone on November 2, 1921 at the country poor farm.

Simeon lived on the South Fork ranch until he died on November 26, 1939. The “Idaho County Free Press” wrote in his obituary, “Old Slim, as he was known to the people along the river and in Warren and McCall, was a genuine pioneer. His reason for seeking the seclusion of the Salmon River wilderness was never known.”

source: “Free Land! Hopes and Hardships of Pioneers of Valley County, Idaho” by the Valley County History Project.
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Sim Willey’s First Ranch

“The next ranch upstream from the South Fork located on the west side of the river was the Curley Brewer ranch. Brewer was not the first one to occupy this ranch. Simeon or Sim Willey was there sometime in the early 1880s. In 1896, the Willey family moved up river to Sheep Creek. …”

source: Homesteads (South Fork Salmon River) By C. Eugene Brock “Valley County Idaho Prehistory to 1920” Valley County History Project pages 211-212
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Willey Ranch

by Deanna Riebe

“Sim Willey homesteaded on the South Fork Salmon River in 1895, a few miles below the mouth of the Secesh River. He raised a large family there and provided a school for them on the ranch. The Willey Ranch was always a gathering place, and some say you could find a variety of people at the Willey’s for Sunday dinner – Chinese miners, local Indians, travelers passing through, and even the governor. Normal Willey was Idaho’s second governor, and also Sim Willey’s brother.

“The Willeys were also very much a part of the Yellow Pine community. Ted Abstein (the son of Henry Abstein) recalls that Sim Willey and his family would drive a steer from their ranch on the South Fork all the way to Yellow Pine for the Fourth of July celebration. The seer was barbecued on a spit through the night with men working in shifts, turning the spit, feeding the fire and basting. … Abstein also recalls family trips from Yellow Pine to the Willey Ranch by trail, in an over-the-mountains route, before a road was built along the river.”

source: Valley County, Idaho Prehistory to 1920 – Valley County History Project page 344.
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Willey Ranch Homestead Patent August 1, 1923

Signed by Warren G. Harding

link to: WilleyRanchPatent.PDF
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Simeon A. Willey (1859 – 1939)

Simeon Willey dies at Ranch

December 7 (FP*) – The death of Simeon Willey, 80, at his cattle ranch on the South Fork of Salmon river on Sunday, November 26, removed another interesting patriarch from the Salmon river wilderness country.

He went to Warren in the early 80’s from New York state. At that time mining activity in Warrens camp was at a boom stage. Mr. Willey and his young family packed their worldly possessions on horses and said goodbye to Warren and civilization and crossed Warren summit into the South Fork canyon. They penetrated the rugged canyon country nearly fifty miles, following along the South Fork until they came to a spot where the canyon floor widened and on this spot they set their stakes. Young Willey and his youthful wife built a cabin and settled down to conquer the wilderness and raise a family.

While Simeon took to adventures in mining camp, his brother, Norman B. Willey, turned to adventure in the political life of the territory. Both were intelligent, educated men. Norman was elected lieutenant governor and when Governor George L. Shoup resigned to accept a seat in the United States Senate in 1890, the lieutenant governor took his place.

For many years the Willey’s nearest neighbors were the “Dead Shot” Reeds who has squatted on the South Fork 20 miles above. Occasionally during the year members of the two families would meet on the trail; it is said that neither family encouraged visitors.

The Willey family packed farm machinery on horseback from McCall, mowing machines, rakes, haystacker. An original small bunch of cattle was developed into a band of several hundred head. Abundance of range land and wild hay on the bar make the cattle venture a profitable one.

The elder daughter assisted her father with cattle on the range for many years. Two sons later helped. One of the boys was drafted during the World War and was killed. Except for an occasional prospector and hunters in the fall, the sparsely settled South Fork canyon was dominated by the Willey and Reed families.

Lou Thompson, at his place on the South Fork below, related his experience in taking the young Willey boy to McCall at the age of about 14 where the youth saw for the first time a train, automobile, stores, motion pictures – in fact, he got his first glimpse of civilization. The children had been taught at home by their mother.

“Old Sim” as he was known to people along the river, in Warren and McCall, was a genuine pioneer. His reasons for seeking the seclusion of Salmon river wilderness was never known.

Extracted from Cheryl Helmer’s Warren Times/A collection of news about Warren, Idaho. Henington Publishing Company, Wolfe City, TX., 1988.

* Idaho County Free Press, Grangeville.

He is buried on the ranch he homesteaded, next to his son Ray who died in 1918. (See Private Cemeteries).

His daughter Pearl Hitchcock’s obituary gives additional family history.

source: Valley County GenWeb Project
[h/t SMc]
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Pearl Willey Hitchcock

(1903 – 1993)

(From Pearl’s funeral, courtesy of Janet Cox Harshfield)

Pearl was from, and a part of, a pioneer family with a lot of history behind her – especially Idaho history. I found it extremely interesting so I want to share a little of that, not really as an obituary of her life, but rather a few interesting highlights from an intriguing family history. The family was here in America very early for there is the record of them being admitted to a Church in Boston in 1634. You realize that is only 14 years after the coming of the pilgrims on the Mayflower.

Pearl’s parents family originated in New York. Her grandmother was a Rosevelt.

Her father and his brother were part of the 1849 Gold Rush to California. Then when gold was discovered in Idaho they came to the Idaho Territory. Her uncle Norman Willey was a colonel in the Idaho militia during the Sheepeater war. Her father and uncle went into Warren as gold miners.

Her father’s brother, Norman Willey became the First Lieutenant Governor of Idaho and became the the second Governor of the State when Governor Shoup went to Washington D.C. as a senator. Her father moved to the Salmon River in 1895 to establish the Willey Ranch. (Valley County)

The Willey Ranch became the gathering place for everybody along the Salmon River country. When the circuit riders came through the people would gather at the Willey Ranch for church services.

They had the largest library in that part of the country. Both Pearl’s father and uncle graduated from the University of Kansas. Her uncle graduated from the University at age 17. They brought with them many books when they came to Idaho.

They had a private School on the ranch. Pearl went through 8 grades there. The population was so scattered that not too many neighbors got there but some did including such names as Dead Shot Reed’s family.

She took care of both her father and mother. In fact she nursed her father for the last few years of his life and ran the ranch herself for his last three years.

The ranch was the gathering place for neighbors and for travelers coming through, including the Nez Perce Indians who camped on their land during the salmon run and when snow got deep in mid-winter. When Pearl prepared dinner, especially Sundays, she never knew how many would be there. It would sometimes include Indians, very often some of the Chinese and forest rangers who might be in the area. The Willey’s were criticized severely because their dinner table and home was always open to the Chinese or the Indians as well as anyone else.

Pearl came to Emmett in 1933. She joined the Church in 1940.

She was married to Floyd Smith from 1941 to 1949. She was married to Robert Hitchcock from 1951 to 1959. So she was a widow for her last 33 years.

During her working years she did a lot of things but nursing was one of the dominant things. She did home nursing care before the term was coined. She also worked in the packing sheds, and for a number of years at Ore-Ida just after the company was started. Then of course she worked at the Senior Citizens – part of the time as a paid cook and served for a long time as a volunteer.

She has been a member of the first Baptist Church for nearly 53 years, and so very active. I remember her walking to church even from the South Slope area for a time, but she was always in every service for many years. And much of the time she had gathered up some of the neighbor kids and made sure they were in Sunday School and church. She remained faithful to her church to the end. She had nearly perfect attendance in 1992 in the morning services, and was in church the Sunday before she died. It is a rarity to see people as faithful and dedicated to their church over so long a time span as she.

source:  Gem County GenWeb Project
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Willey Ranch – Rebillet Ranch

One homestead had already been established during the Warren mining boom downriver at the mouth of Sheep Creek by Sim Willey. The Willey Ranch, as it was called, when the forest was organized, was later bought by Clarence A. Rebillet in the 30’s and is now referred to as the Rebillet Ranch.

source: “Bury My Soul at Krassel Hole” by Tom Ortman 1975
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Rebillet Family Tree

Clarence A. Rebillet
Birth: 1905 Guernsey, Platte County, Wyoming, USA
Death: Nov. 11, 1963 Camas County, Idaho, USA
Spouse: Marriage Date 7 Jun 1927
Reva Hortense Moon Rebillet (4/7/1903 – 8/11/1968 )
Clarence and Reva Rebillet are buried in the McCall Cemetery Block C-04, Lot 7 & 6
Louis Rebillet (1929 – 1985)
Bonnie Bertha Rebillet (1931 – 2001)
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Louis G. Rebillet
December 20, 1929 – August 18, 1985
Birth: Dec. 20, 1929 Guernsey, Platte County, Wyoming, USA
Death: Aug. 18, 1985 West Palm Beach, Palm Beach County, Florida, USA
Clarence Arthur Rebillet (1905 – 1963)
Reva Hortense Moon Rebillet (1902 – 1968)
Burial: McCall Cemetery, McCall, Valley County, Idaho, Block C-07, Lot 28
Husband of Rose Saleen. Father of Loues, Jill & Katy. Stepfather of Bill, Tom, Merrill, Dan, Steve, Rosana Saleen Little & Janet Saleen Meckel. SA, Navy, Korea, 1950 – 1951.
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Bonnie Bertha (Rebillet) (Don Caward) Davis
Birth: May 25, 1931 Wheatland, Platte County, Wyoming, USA
Death: Age 70; August 8, 2001, McCall, Idaho
Burial: McCall Cemetery, Block C-04, Lot 5
Clarence Arthur Rebillet (1905 – 1963)
Reva Hortense Moon Rebillet (1902 – 1968)
Mother of Joyce (Harold) Lukecart
Married Del Davis February 1967
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Louis G. Rebillet

Louis Rebillet regularly traveled the South Fork from the mouth of the Secesh River to Mackay Bar and Elk Creek during winters, and from Warren to the Willey Ranch during summers from 1946 to 1962.

source: Tom Remington
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Louis Rebillet and Rose Marie Saleen

(photo courtesy C. Gillihan)

… “On June 7, 1974, when the older children had left the nest and the youngest was in his mid-teens, Rose married a childhood friend she had gone to school in Cascade with, Louis Rebillet. Louie, as he was affectionately known, was an elk and deer hunting outfitter in the South Fork of the Salmon River and Big Creek regions. He also hunted cougar in the wintertime and had killed 40 cougars by 1968. After a few seasons operating the outfitter business together, Louie sold the operation and moved to Boise with Rose. However, the big town of Boise was not to his liking. Soon, they were back in the mountains operating the hunting business at Mackay Bar and managing the Hettinger Ranch on the South Fork, where they fed about 60 head of horses and mules in the winter. Later, with Louie and Rose back in Boise, Louie took a truck driving job. In 1985, at age 55, he passed away while making a delivery stop in Florida. The years riding the trails with one of the best outdoorsman Idaho has ever known were incredibly good years for Rose.”

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Hunting transferred from Rebillet to Davis

Idaho Outfitters and Guides Board Meeting

August 14, 1960

“Transfer of Warren [hunting] area from Louis Rebillet to Del Davis was approved.”

source: Idaho Outfitters and Guides Board
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Bonnie Bertha Rebillet (Caward) and Del Davis

“Following military service Davis returned to Idaho, married his sweetheart, Bonnie, and settled on the ranch, which had belonged to his wife’s family. “Bonnie was very much the maverick woman,” remembers Fowler. “She was like Annie Oakley, and she loved being in the mountains.” They, along with their children, lived on the property year-round.”

source: “A life in the Saddle” Sun Valley Magazine January 15, 2009
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Del Davis


Text: Greg Wilson Photography: Jim Fowler

Early outfitters were a rare breed in Idaho, perhaps because there seemed to be no need for the moniker.

Informal guiding, on the other hand, dates back—at least—to the first time a stranger stepped onto the soil, long before statehood, and asked a Native American to point the way. If you lived in the Idaho wilderness, you found your own paths through it and shared them with anyone who may have asked for directions. Licensing? Why?

If you could stay alive out there, well, that seemed like license enough.

Nonetheless, in 1954, Idaho did license its first guides and outfitters—a few hardened men whose way of life evolved naturally into a way of making a living. Primarily fishermen and hunters, they emerged from the backcountry, the heart of the land, to share outdoor skills and local knowledge with “outsiders,” helping them bag a trophy elk or land an impressive rainbow, but also sharing a unique brand of Western personality, companionship, and wisdom. More than 400 licensed outfitters operate in Idaho today, employing more than 2,000 licensed guides; but, fifty years ago, they were few and far between.

Although many of these men are gone now, their stories, handed down by those who stood shoulder-to-shoulder with them in the backcountry, are still being told. The legend of hunting guide Del Davis, one of Idaho’s early outfitters, lives on through the words of fellow hunter, guide, and devoted friend, Jim Fowler, who says, “Del was tough as nails, sinewy and strong.” Davis was rugged, a reflection of the landscape in which he lived.

source: “A life in the Saddle” Sun Valley Magazine January 15, 2009
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Delton Arlie “Del” Davis

(1921 – 1990)


South Fork of the Salmon River – Delton Arlie “Del” Davis, 69, of the South Fork of the Salmon River, died Saturday, Oct 20, 1990, in McCall after a struggle with cancer.

Funeral services will be held at 2pm Wednesday, Oct. 24, at the Heikkila Funeral Chapel, McCall. Dan Rohrbacker will officiate. Burial will be at 2pm Thursday, Oct, 25, at the Willey Ranch Cemetery on the South Fork of the Salmon River.

Del was born in January of 1921, and reared and educated in Midvale. At age 20, he started as a packer and guide for geological survey crews and hunters. Later, Del worked for Boeing Aircraft in Seattle, until he joined the U.S. Navy during World War II. Upon being discharged at the end of the war, he returned to Boeing for a time, and also managed a fish plant on the coast. Del returned to Idaho and continued as an outfitter and guide until his illness this year. He married Bonnie Rebillet Caward in February of 1967, and they had since lived on the old Willey Ranch on the South Fork.

Del enjoyed having a place away from phones and the hustle and bustle of the outside world where his friends could come to relax. He loved the mountains, river, and animals; the company of friends and good stories; and the challenge of big game hunting.

Survivors include his wife, Bonnie Davis; three daughters, Judy Meyer of Bethel, Alaska, Cheri Bates of Boise and Kathey Stone of Weiser; a son, Delton “Buzz” Davis of Weiser; a stepdaughter Joyce Lukecart of McCall; 12 grandchildren; two great-grandchildren; and three sisters, Margie Towll in California, Georgie Towll in Oregon and Dean Rotert in Washington. He was preceded in death by his parents; three sisters; two brothers; and his former wife and mother of their children.

Memorials may be made to Mountain Search & Rescue, Box 859, Cascade 83611.
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Delton Irvin “Buzz” Davis

(1944 – 2006)


Following a long and courageous battle with lung cancer, Buzz Davis quietly slipped away at home on March 29, 2006.

Born in Seattle, Wash. on Feb. 12, 1944, Buzz´s family moved to Weiser in the early 1950s. He was known to his friends and family as a cowboy, gold miner and a real good ole´ boy who loved life and lived it to it´s fullest. The son of an outfitter, Buzz had many fond memories of the back country and the people who, like him, appreciated the beauty and majesty of Idaho´s wilderness.

In 1991 Buzz returned to his roots and became a licensed Outfitter and Guide operating on the South Fork of the Salmon River for many years. He made lifelong friends from the East Coast to the West Coast.

In later years Buzz enjoyed gold mining, hunting, deep-sea fishing, and Karaoke singing with family and friends. Buzz loved helping folks out, be it working on their home, running heavy equipment or going on a much loved cattle drive. He touched every one he came in contact with in a very special way, we will miss him very much. He is survived by his life partner, Sharon Driessen, his children; Cheri and Joey Severence, Jay Davis and Diane and Jim Martin; sisters and their husbands, Cheri and Marc Meyer, Kathy and Alan Stone, a half brother Casey McMullen, Sharon´s children Lee Driessen and Shawna and Randy McKinnis, five grandsons and many nieces and nephews.

His mother, Thelma McMullen, his father, Del Davis and his sister, Judy Bates, preceded him in death. His family would also like to thank all of the Mountain States Tumor Institute doctors and wonderful staff for their support and care of Buzz during his illness. It was there he made many new friends. In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations are given in Buzz´s name to MSTI in Fruitland c/o Thomason Funeral Home, Weiser, Idaho. Services will be held Saturday, April 1, 2006 at 3 p.m. at Thomason Funeral Home.

Published in Idaho Statesman on Mar. 31, 2006

[Ashes scattered along South Fork of Salmon River near Hamilton Bar]
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Willey Ranch Now

Mike Dorris at the Willey Ranch 2015

Photo and story by Debbie Gary

… Before we flew back to McCall, Dorris landed at Willey Ranch, the steepest runway in Idaho—550 feet long at a 23-degree incline. One day his wheels got stuck in snow there, halfway up the runway. He and his passenger took turns holding the brakes to prevent the aircraft from sliding backward while the other man dug a path through the snow for the wheels.

Dorris used to deliver mail to Willey Ranch until someone burned the house down smoking in bed. He’d taken me there just to share the thrill. Imagine flying toward a mountain, then instead of turning, crashing, or climbing, you pitch the nose up just enough to land on it.

source: Air & Space Magazine October 2017
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Cessna 180 Departing Willey Ranch, Idaho


Cessna 180 Departing Willey Ranch, a private airstrip, on the South Fork of the Salmon.


page updated Nov 30, 2018