My great grandfather Montgomery Jones and his brother Joe came to Wyoming from somewhere but I never knew exactly where.  I know they wanted to “become cowboys” and I knew that’s exactly what they did: my grandmother loved to tell the stories of my Monte riding horses with Buffalo Bill, wrangling and taking care of business with other homesteaders in Cody, Wyoming while Bill Cody was out doing shows.  Eastern U.S. born and immigrants had come from all over to unlikely places like Wyoming and Idaho for gold or for promise of a better life for their families.  But the details of Monte’s early (pre-Wyoming) life were not so interesting to me.  Until now.

Photo Aug 04, 7 29 12 PM

My great grandfather, future cowboy Monte Jones, squeezed into the middle.

A week ago during the long road trip from Cincinnati, Ohio to my new home here in Moscow, Idaho, my wife Mei and I stopped at my Aunt’s house in Cody, Wyoming.  As usual, we got out the old cowboy family photos.  There were the old true sepia favorites: My mom and sisters in oversized hats, indians and cowboys with names like Shootin Billy and Davey the Kid playing poker at the Cody Stampede, etc.  As we turned the pages and my aunt recounted the histories, I noticed one family photo I had never investigated closely, featuring Monte as a kid squeezed awkwardly into the middle.  Then Mei spotted it–a photographer’s stamp in the bottom right corner reading: MOSCOW, IDAHO.

I had never even heard of Moscow Idaho (until I got a job in the nearby town of Pullman, WA) let alone visited or lived here.  But of all the places in the country to randomly end up, I am here now in the very same place that my great great grandfather chose when he decided to leave Virginia to find some freshly acquired U.S. government land for his family.

With a little help from the University of Idaho (now within walking distance from me) I learned that, ERICHSON AND HANSON, the photo studio stamped in the bottom left, was comprised of two prolific and skilled photographers Henry Erichson from Germany and John A. Hanson from Denmark.  As well as studio work, the photographers compiled the (now partially reconstructed) photographic history of the U.S. war with the Nez Perce Indians.  Since Erichson and Hanson’s partnership was so brief (University of Idaho Library Nez Perces Indian War Series ’77 (1891) . April 2001), I can practically confirm the date of the family photo as 1892: the same year The University of Idaho opened its doors and the year my current employer, Washington State University was founded.  It’s likely that the Danish photographer Hanson took the picture of my great grandfather and great great grandfather with family in Grangeville, ID, while Hanson was still in partnership with Erichson who remained here in Moscow, ID.

Well, okay, so that old photo was probably not taken here in Moscow but in Grangeville, ID, on the other side of the Nez Perce reservation.  My Aunt says that yes, Monte and Joe had lived in Grangeville for a while before they ran off to “become cowboys”.  That’s always where my mom started the stories.  Well, now it starts right here in Idaho.  Or is this where it ends?

Today, I am going to Grangeville, ID to find the ghost of my great, great grandfather Jones.