January 1922
by Elsie Lenton Corwin

During the busy years of clearing land and planting trees and building house and barn, as well as the Arrastra, the ever versatile Captain also built six guest cabins along the banks of the rippling stream under the shade of the green Alder trees. These were washed away in the big flood and only two were rebuilt, as, you see them now. This busy man had by this time also built his own sawmill down near the Arrastra so that he cut and milled his own lumber right on the place. Some of this timber is still to be seen in the lodge.

These cabins were used by hikers and campers who traveled by foot or by horseback to reach this retreat back in the mountains. They came to rest and enjoy the quiet peacefulness of Alder Creek Canyon. Mother Loomis added to the attractions of the place by preparing and serving wondrously fine meals, using the chickens, eggs, milk, honey, butter and all kinds of fresh vegetables and fruit grown on the place in the gardens she and her daughters tended. She was especially noted for her fried chicken and fluffy biscuits served with honey from their own bees. Many visitors came again and again even though it was quite a trip to get in over the trails.

Late in January, back in 1922, Mother Loomis remembered, there had been two groups of hikers in to the ranch to spend a few days. The weather had been beautiful for midwinter until the very day that the visitors planned to go home. Then it started to rain, not too heavy at first, but still pretty wet and cold. Captain Loomis tried to persuade them to stay over until the next day thinking that the weather might be better then. However, Wilbur, one of the boys, was in the cast for a music program at school and he said, “I've just got to get home 'cause the show depends on each' of us being there to take our part". So by midmorning both groups left the cabins at the ranch to go home. One party of seven went safely over the trail and out over Mt. Pacifico toward Acton. Wilbur Place and his friend, Ben Mustane, left to go out by the other route up Chilao way. Since the weather wasn't yet too bad, no one worried especially about their being easily able to make the trip in one day.

However, by nightfall the rain had changed to snow and it grew steadily colder and colder. When once the snow lays out it's white blanket, hiding everything under its cold cover, it becomes very difficult to follow the trails or even to recognize the trail signs. So, when toward evening, Ben and Wilbur reached Billy Wright's cabin on the Chilao trail, near where the ranger station is now, they decided to spend the night there and start out again in the morning. The friendly people of the old days never locked their cabins, you know, so that travelers needing shelter were always welcome to stop over and use the cabin, whether or not the owner was home. The cabin owners also kept some dry wood for a fire and some food was usually on hand, in case travelers were caught in a storm unprepared. On the other hand, if the traveler did carry with him any non-perishable supplies, like coffee or flour, he might in his turn leave some in the cabin for the next visitors. Or, if the hiker came that way again, he brought some useful supplies on purpose to leave at the cabin. In this way each traveler shared with the other. Then next time the owner returned he usually found notes left by his visitors telling him who had been that way - sort of thank you notes. Many lives were saved in winter weather by this friendly custom of sharing food and shelter.

So Wilbur and Ben felt free to spend the night at the Wright cabin. Mother Loomis told me that they had found out where the boys had stayed later from a note that was discovered in the cabin, written on the back of an old calendar sheet. The boys wrote thanking Mother Loomis for the fine lunch she had sent along with them. They mentioned finding a cache of food in the cabin, but said they were anxious to get home and would only stay that night. At the time, however, no one knew this and so thought they had safely returned home in time for the show.

The storm had blown down all the telephone lines so even the boys' parents couldn't reach the ranch to find out about them. It wasn't until the 12th of February, almost two weeks later, that a search party could go over the dangerous snow covered trails and came looking for the two boys. This was the first time Captain and Mother Loomis learned that the boys had never reached home. Oh, that was a sad stormy winter.

The search party included Mustane's father, who, of course, was extremely worried about his son. Two Forest Rangers, V. P. Vetter and H. Mosley, who was a brother-in-law of Wilbur Place, and John Opid completed the group. Opid owned a ranch about fourteen miles away (which, by the way, has also been made into a camp) and he and the Rangers knew the country very well. Incidently, one of the nearby mountains, nearly 6,000 feet high, was named for Vetter. You can find it on the map, if you look.

These men tramped through the snow up Alder Creek Canyon, all the way to Wright's cabin back of Chilao, looking for any signs that they could find of the two boys. It was when they finally reached Wright's cabin that they found the note that the boy had written and left there. It had been cold and stormy for days and heavy snow still covered the trails so the going wasn't easy for these searchers. In fact, there were several deaths in the mountains in that winter's storms. It must have been about as bad as the year Ruth's baby was born when she couldn't get over the trails to a doctor because of the snow"

One good thing though, the snow did help the searchers, for they now found the boys' tracks near the cabin, perfect patterns frozen in the snow. The tracks as they followed them, led them back almost to the Barley Flats trail, about a mile below the Loomis Ranch. You must have guessed by now that this story has a sad ending. Yes, they found the boys lying not far from each other, near the Barley Flats trail, frozen in the snow! Ben and Wilbur had lost their way trying to take a short cut through the snow from Wright's cabin up on Chilao, to Barley Flats. If you look at the map you can see where these places are. If the boys had only stayed on the ranch or in the cabin, they could have been perfectly safe until the storm was over. That was surely a tragic ending to a happy hiking trip!

The men brought the two frozen bodies back to the ranch where, with great thoughtfulness for the two lost boys, Captain Loomis made two fine boxes from Alder lumber and Mother lined them with some of her sheets. They did the best they could with what they had on hand. A burial plot on the ranch was given the boys by the Loomis family and the burial ceremony was reverently read by John Opid from Mother Loomis' prayer book.

There was great sadness for the two boys who needlessly lost their lives in the snow and never got to the music program after all, when they could just as well have stayed safely at the ranch until the storm was over. Later Wilbur's father bought markers for each grave and there you can still see them up near the lilac tree, just left of the entrance to our camp.

And you know, that small plot of ground around the two graves doesn't even belong to our Loomis Camp, for it will always belong to the families of Wilbur and Ben, two lost, frozen boys buried there.

But, perhaps a happy ending after all, is that no one else was ever lost or frozen in this canyon after that. The two graves are a constant and grim reminder to others, not to take the chance of wandering off the trails in the mountains, most especially when the weather is bad.

[Source: The True Loomis Stories by Elsie Lenton Corwin, Wandalee Thompson Collection (2006.38.1)]