As 12-year-old Everett Stokes from Burley eyed the stamp mill at the Clayton Heritage Day festival, he tossed the rock he found near the Clayton Museum from one hand to another.
“I hope I get to crush it,” Stokes said as Lloyd Jones from Salmon explained how the mill mashed rocks to separate crumbs of silver from the dust. “They said I can keep whatever they find.”
Stokes and his family stopped in Clayton last week out of curiosity during a family reunion. They had never been in Clayton for Heritage Day, and they wanted to see what was going on.
“It’s a different kind of education,” Lisa Stokes, the mother, said about learning Clayton’s mining history.
“It’s cool seeing all these machines and how they worked,” the father, John, said.
Clayton Area Historical Association President Myron Combs said the point of the festival is to educate visitors on mining history and to “let everyone know we’re still here.”
People have fun with the mill, fly-tying lessons, a chili cook-off and a log sawing contest, all while listening to music, but Combs said the event helps people realize the role mining played in their lives. Mining is an essential part of Custer County’s history, Combs said. It’s important Idahoans know the role the industry played because it helped define Idaho.
Combs and other members of the association, who have organized more than a decade of Heritage Days had no projections for this year. The coronavirus pandemic threw them all for a loop, according to member Jolene Ogden. As she stirred the ingredients for the homemade root beer she makes every year, Ogden said there was a discussion about whether to cancel the event.
Because Custer County hasn’t been hit hard by the coronavirus, and because Clayton rarely has more than 10 people in it, the association felt comfortable going ahead with the event.
“People want to get out where there’s open air,” Ogden said as she moved dry ice around in a vat of sugar, water and root beer concentrate. “We got a lot of that here.”
Frank Smith, who showed anyone willing to watch how to tie a pretty fly, said the best part of the event is teaching children. Whether it be mining history or fishing, Smith said he loves to see kids light up when they learn something new.
“It’s a lot of winding,” Smith told a group of children gathered around him as he secured a feather to his fly. “You keep winding and winding and winding.”
Along with free lessons and refreshments, a group of musicians jammed. Melinda Stanley, who spends summers in Clayton, brought her banjo and bass skills. She said this year seemed smaller. Stanley was honestly surprised people showed up at all, given association members didn’t advertise the event. Also, she worried the pandemic would discourage some people from participating.
“I didn’t hear a thing but I guessed that didn’t stop some people from coming,” Stanley said.
Participants in the log-cutting contest were encouraged to give it their all, but to be careful with the two-person saw. Preston Bethke from American Falls gave a little too much when he pulled the handle off the saw mid-cut.
“What can I say, I was getting into the groove,” Bethke said.
Combs, who was on hand to assist Bethke and his brother, Kody, didn’t mind too much. He simply took the handle, put it back on the saw, and kept the action going.