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In the Valley of Shadows

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In the Valley of Shadows

The scarecrow of Sagle

Last month I related that for a number of years after the Second World War, mysterious, ghostly and unusual phenomena became more prevalent. This month, a local story told to me one day in 1969 by my Uncle Pat from Eugene, Ore.

It was 22 years earlier, as Uncle Pat returned to our family ranch to help my grandparents, who otherwise would have spent their last years alone. My oldest uncle, Connel, one of the founders of the Civilian Conservation Corps, had moved to Spokane with Berniece, his first wife.

The youngest of the three brothers, Dennis (my dad), was still recuperating from his war wounds in an Army hospital in Virginia at a certain hot sprints, but would return in 1948. My Uncle Pat was planning on moving to Oregon where he was to marry, but delayed his plans so he could care for his parents.

Pat found himself alone with my grandparents for the first time in years, not far from the current Sagle fire station.

To call their place a ranch would be generous; it was more a farm with a few cows and chickens. But they had planted a large garden—half an acre, to be precise—of corn, potatoes and an assortment of other vegetables and berries that I still remember my grandma planting here in town on a 50 by 90 plot of ground on Forest Avenue every year, a plot I gladly took over for a time after she died.

Anyway, Uncle Pat noticed a large amount of crows around the field especially—naturally—in the corn. One day there were plenty of ears and the next, it was like someone had come through with a gunny sack and taken all that was ripe. In those days, there was a limited stock at the local market. You just couldn’t go down and buy whatever you needed or wanted at the supermarket.

Uncle Pat mounted a scarecrow made of old squash husks for the head and a donation of old clothes from a neighbor for the body. His scarecrow did the job, a little too well as it turned out. No more corn was stolen, and what was left hung heavy and ripe on the stalks.

But something wasn’t right. Out in the field one day, Pat noticed the dead bodies of rodents, a rabbit and a fox near the scarecrow.

Uncle Pat, sensible and serious-minded, chose to write off this oddity. One night, though, something happened he couldn’t ignore. Asleep in his loft bedroom, he heard a strange sound; a rushing, as if the wind were pulling the breath from a person. At least, that was the way he described it.

The next morning all seemed well, until he noticed that one of their three cows was nowhere to be seen. Going out into the field near the garden, he saw the scarecrow, moved four rows over and about twenty feet further west than it had been the day before; like it had suddenly gained the power and energy to move on its own.

Uncle Pat knew now that something was off. He continued walking the fence line with the neighbor’s property until there in the grass he saw the missing cow. A gentle milk animal about as threatening as a house cat—dead. No obvious cause, she was just dead.

Pat had a hard time with the carcass, but buried it on the spot. He was at wit’s end. Elderly parents, alone, his brothers scattered to the wind and there he was, alone with a mystery.

Fortunately, nothing happened after this episode and the final winter of the Fury family farm in Sagle was spent in relative peace.

But what did happen? A misperception? Or was this a spirit from the afterlife or recently concluded war, tapping into the life force of anything, animals, etc., to manifest itself back into this world?

My family’s ranch wound down the following spring. Grandpa died in the winter of ‘47-’48 but my grandmother, Lola Belle, still vibrant, made it until October 1969 to see the moon landing. Uncle Pat settled in Eugene, where he started a Firestone tire store. Uncle Con settled in Opportunity, Washington, now the Spokane Valley, where he died in 1980. His second wife, Joyce, still lives there on Clinton Road.

My dad, Dennis, after returning from his war recuperation, was left with the task of shutting down the ranch and selling it before moving to Sandpoint, and a job at the old Pack River Lumber mill in Dover. As Dad left the ranch for the last time, though, he noticed the tattered scarecrow erected by his brother out in the field... silent, expecting, mocking pleading... in this Valley of Shadows.

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Author info

Lawrence Fury Lawrence Fury is an inveterate letter-to-the-editor writer, and a conservative conscience for this area of North Idaho. He's also an expert on local ghost stories, and is compiling a group of them for future book publication. You can read more about him in a Love Notes feature for the River Journal

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