Life on the Hill had times of sorrow among the sweet

Mike Ward

For the better part of a year, I have shared many stories of my life and others who lived on “The Hill.” It has been my intent to open a window into the lives of the people who called it home. Some lived there most of their lives and continue to this day. There were many who came for a summer to work or visit with relatives and friends. Not all, but most have a similar feeling for that time. For me, it was a great experience.

Books have been written and stories told about pain and loss while there. The fact is that in those years, all of us had times of pain and pleasure. Families would get together around an out-of-tune, upright piano and sing old songs. Other times families would get together to mourn the loss of a dear friend or relative in one of the communities on the hill. We would hold the family members who had lost a loved one and cry with them.

Illness took the life of a classmate during our second year in high school. Logging accidents took many. One family lost a husband and father the day of our spring prom while he was working on the log drive.

The list goes on and on. There are too many names to remember them all. Children drowned while swimming in one of the local streams. Another schoolmate lost her dad when a tree struck him and seriously injured his foreman while logging. Farming accidents claimed lives as well. The roads were not forgiving when kids mixed alcohol with driving.

A local minister lost his 16-year-old son when he was separated from the rest of his hunting party and spent the night on Bertha Hill in below-freezing temperatures. A schoolmate and I were paired up on the search party and found him. Carrying his body out to a helicopter was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. Occasionally, the cause was old age or illness for the elderly retired woodsmen who lived in little cabins out in the woods. Someone would miss them and check only to find that they had breathed their last alone in the woods.

We lost many relatives and friends but we eventually lost the thing that had brought many of us together. We lost our town. Pierce is still there. Weippe is still there. But Headquarters is now a few houses and a company building. The town is gone, but the community still exists. In fact, people still get together and share stories and their favorite beverage or meal in a variety of settings. Gatherings include a periodic reunion, picnics, luncheons, breakfasts all with one centerpiece life on the Hill. In March, I was able meet with some of the crew and catch up on what was happening.

I spent 15 years in Arkansas and now live in South Carolina, but the Hill is in my heart. God has blessed me in so many ways. One way I’m forever thankful for is to have grown up on the Hill.

I want to thank all of the readers of this column for your encouragement and gracious response to my stories. I hope you have been able to smile and think of your own joyful experiences wherever you may be. This will be my final article for the Tribune, but my story is not over. My daughters think it’s time to move closer to them near Augusta, Ga. I probably won’t see too much snow there, but I borrow a few lines from Robert Frost in conclusion.

“The woods are lovely, dark and deep,

But I have promises to keep,

And miles to go before I sleep,

And miles to go before I sleep.”

— Robert Frost “Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening”

Ward, 72, lived in Headquarters from 1948-70. He graduated from Pierce High School and received a bachelor’s degree in education at Lewis-Clark Normal School (now Lewis-Clark State College). He’s now retired and living in Columbia, S.C., with Beth, his wife of 48 years.

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