Tim Woodward’s regular columns are alternating with previously published columns during the pandemic. This one originally was published in The Idaho Statesman in 1989.
SMALL, Idaho – It’s hard to say for certain which is the smallest town in Idaho, but it would be hard to beat Small. At one time it was listed in “Ripley’s Believe It or Not” as the smallest town in America.
Its population then was one – the postmaster.
Last year, Small had a population explosion. An entire family moved into a house on a hill above town. (No one lives in the town proper, which consists of the post office and an abandoned store.)
I went to Small because it was a tiny, intriguing dot on the Idaho road map. And it was only a small distance out of my way.
“If you want to know about Small,” a woman who lives in the house on the hill said, “go up the road to the second ranch on the left. The people there know all about it.”
“Thanks. What’s their name?”
Lee Small has lived up the road from Small all his life. He and his wife, Mary, own a cattle and horse ranch. Their sons Kevin and Butch and their adopted son, Marty Forester, are cowboys.
Not just any cowboys – rodeo cowboys. You don’t expect to meet big names in a place like Small, but the Smalls’ sons are famous. All have placed among the top 15 rodeo cowboys in the nation. Butch has been in the top 15 for seven consecutive years.
Lee invited me into their living room – its walls are literally covered with rodeo photos – and among other things told me how Small got its name.
“My granddad, Dennis Small, came here on his way west in 1881,” he said. “He ran horses, too. He went on to Oregon but then came back, had ten children and got the town named after him. There have been Smalls here for over 100 years.”
“Do you like it here” I asked him.
“Oh, I know there are better places to live. I don’t like the winters, but I’m 69 and don’t know anything else. And the kids turned out good. They all went to college and haven’t ever been in trouble. There’s no crime here. We never lock our doors. Yeah, I guess I like it, all right.”
We sat and talked for a spell. Then the boys took me out back for a look at their bunkhouse.
The bunkhouse is like something out of a Roy Rogers movie – rifles hanging from log walls, boots and spurs lining the bunks, cowboy paraphernalia everywhere. You half expect to see Gabby Hayes gumming a sourdough biscuit.
So where do the hands go when they need something from the Twentieth Century?
“If it’s small, we go to Dubois,” Lee Small said. “If it’s big, we go to the Falls (Idaho Falls).”
He laughed and added that these days there isn’t much reason for anyone to go to Small.
“These ranches never did pay much. In the old days, people stayed and tried to make it. At its peak, there might have been 30 people who got their mail at Small. Now, you’ll have one guy who owns three or four places and lives in the Falls or even Utah.
“We’re the only original family left, and except for granddad the Smalls never were very productive. There aren’t even many Smalls at Small anymore.”