1884 – Sunset Ranches* – Bruneau
First Generation Owner: James H. & Eliza Black
Current Owner: David & Barbara Lahtinen
James Harrison Black and Eliza Jane Mullen Black were married October 21, 1858. They first resided in Ohio where James H. worked on the Cumberland Road. Four of their six children, John (Bonnie Colyer’s family), Mary Margaret, Frank (had no children), and James F. “Fet” (grandfather of David Lahtinen), were born there. They later moved to Missouri where two more children, Dolly and Joseph (grandfather of Ace Black), were born. Eliza’s sister Margaret, who was married to Benjamin Hawes and living in Bruneau, wanted the Blacks to come to Idaho. James and Eliza came by train to Kelton, Utah, and traveled on to Bruneau by wagon, arriving in early May, 1876. They homesteaded 400 acres about four miles northwest of Bruneau.
Their second summer in Idaho, Eliza borrowed 12 head of cows from her brother-in-law and moved to Tuscarrora, Nevada where she sold milk and butter in the booming mining town, moving back to Bruneau in the fall. The next two summers were also spent in Tuscarrora. They used the money earned for fencing and improving the ranch. A couple of years later Eliza moved to Big Springs with 60 head of milk cows and operated a dairy business. Eliza and Mary Margaret milked the cows and Frank and James cared for the cows and calves. The milk was put in large pans, cream skimmed off and put in a 40 gallon barrel under the falls in the ice cold spring. The water tipped the barrel back and forth churning the butter at night. Butter was washed, salted, and wrapped in cheesecloth, and stored for sale to the mining towns. Every fall Eliza would go to south Boise and camp for a month where she canned fuit, preserves, pickles, and dried fruit. She then came back home with enough food to last until the next fall. During this time James H. had a contract driving mail from Silver City to Tuscarrora. Later he contracted the pack horse route from Glenns Ferry to Silver City, swimming the Snake River at Three Island Crossing. Through his efforts and those of his neighbors, the town of Bruneau was organized. he took great interest in the community growth and held a number of offices, including two terms as county commissioner.
In 1884, James H. and Eliza purchased the Sunset Ranches in Little Valley from Henry Roberson. The ranch has continued to be operated by their family since that time. Their son, James F. and his wife Sylvia took over ownership of the ranch in October of 1890. Their daughter, Fay Black, married Lauri Adolf Lahtinen in 1920.
Lauri was born in Finland and arrived at Ellis Island in 1901 at the age of 8 with his mother and siblings. His father, Adolf, had come to the United States in 1892 with his brother-in-law Andrew Honga. Adolf and Albert obtained land and ran the Dot D Sheep Co. settling where East Park and College subdivision is now in Mountain Home. During World War I, Lauri was drafted in 1918 and discharged in 1920.
Lauri and Fay lived on his desert claim at Battle Creek near the canyon above the main ranch. While their children were young Lauri worked on ranches in the Bruneau area with his family living in Bruneau. In February of 1932, Lauri and Fay bought the farm from James “Fet” and Sylvia. Lauri would work all week and go to Bruneau by wagon and pick up Jim to help over the weekend. Later the family moved to the farm year around. Lauri and Fay had eight children: Dorothy, James, Elizabeth, Ailene, Laurine, Elenore, Virginia and David.
David Lahtinen married Barbara Crosley in 1955. When Lauri and Fay retired in 1962, they sold the ranch to their youngest son, Dave, and spent the rest of their lives in Mountain Home. David and Barbara raised their four children and have worked together on Sunset Ranches since that time.
When David and Barbara were honored by the Owyhee Cattlemen’s Association as Honorary Life Members in 2006, their daughter Beverly Lahtinen White made the presentation and shared some memories of growing up on the ranch — reminding us that most successful ranching operations in the past, and still today, are a “team effort”. Here are some excerpts:
We remember our Dad in his younger years, out in the field from daylight til dark, but Mom was always by his side. Well, maybe not always by his “side” but probably in the same field. We remember our mother baling hay, irrigating, driving truck, running parts and, in her spare time, cooking for the haying crew (which always meant fresh bread!), keeping up her yard, and caring for four kids. Mom and Dad always knew where we were and what we were doing — and if they didn’t know they found out later. Our parents were always there for us — not always with a smile on their face, but they were always there.
Our family survived the typical bumps and bruises of growing up on the ranch. We learned the important lessons to be learned in life. Like, if you cross the creek on the way up, that doesn’t mean you will be able to cross it on the way back. And, if you leave camp in the morning riding your horse, you might not be riding the same horse back or, maybe you won’t be riding a horse at all. It could be a helicopter and the helicopter won’t be taking you home.
Over the years our family saw fire, drought and floods. I should say several floods, but always prevailed. I think the hardest thing to see my parents go through was the flood of 1973. My mother had spent every waking minute in her yard and was so proud of it. She had even built a rock bank to prevent the flood water from coming into their beautiful yard with all the flowers. One evening while they were in town with the stock truck, they got the message that there was a flood at home, there was water running through the house, and the kids were gone. Now Dad has been known to drive fast, but I am glad I was not in that stock truck with him that night. They were able to get within about a half mile of home. Dad told Mom to stay at the truck (she had sandals on) and he would walk to the house and find the kids. Of course when they walked in the front door of the house, they were side by side. The two of them had waded into the house through several feet of hail, mud, brush, dead animals and debris — in the dark. Have you ever been really, really glad to see your parents!? That night, we were!
Later, after 20 years of living in a small two-bedroom home on the creek with four kids, the new house on the hill was built. We never flooded out again.
Yes, there was hard work on the ranch. There were very few vacations. There were several one-day fishing trips in the canyon. We once took the stock truck on a fishing trip. All the aunts, uncles and cousins piled in the back. We were gone for three days. We slept on the ground in the canyon. Cousin Dale put minnows from the creek in cousin Jim’s sleeping bag because Jim shot a hole in Dale’s hat! Most of the family vacations were spent scattering salt for the cows in the hills, and having Easter Sunday dinner on the trail, trailing cows out in the spring. But we loved those times. Easter Sunday it always snowed, the wind blew, or we had to cross the creek when it was running high. I remember Dad telling us, “If those baby calves can’t swim, you jump in and grab them!” The baby calves must have been pretty valuable, I don’t think any of us could swim!
Those were the good ol’ days. One time we were staying at Horse Basin and Dad and Mom were fixing fence. My sister and I were packing the staple cans. My brother knocked the truck out of gear and it ran into the spring at the bottom of the hill. There that little red International truck sat in the middle of the spring, the flat bed sitting on the mud. Nothing else was showing. It was a long walk back to the cabin, the six of us together. Over the top of the hill. But, thinking back, I wonder if it wasn’t worth it. We spent two weeks in the cabin, while it continued to rain non-stop. Dad rode the horse to Colyer’s camp and got a ride to the valley. it was several days later he arrived back at camp with a tractor, and a new supply of groceries. I’m sure it wasn’t as much fun for Mom, but those are the times we remember most — riding out of the camp on a box that Dad built to put on the tractor. After two weeks of rain, the mud was deep. There were no mud flaps on the tractor . . . We didn’t get any pictures!
We have lots of good memories. As Dad says, “A cowboy will value his life by his good horse, good dog, perfect wife, and children.” Congratulations Mom and Dad. You have hung in there all these years and never gave up. That’s the tradition of the Owyhee County rancher.