Reader Family Becomes Valley’s First Settlers
Savanah (Sheehan) Chant
In October of 1871, the Noah Reader Family, headed for Montana, stopped in Rawlins, Wyoming to purchase groceries in preparation for the nearly 500-mile trip ahead of them. The family had traveled hundreds of miles from Iowa, bringing with them 20 head of cattle whose feet were sore and ribs protruding, the oxen pulling their prairie schooner were equally thin and twice as soar, and the schooner itself had been held together by the family’s faith alone. When the family of five unloaded themselves onto the windy street in front of the local mercantile, regional mountain man and trapper Bibleback Brown could not help but notice the sullen look on the mother’s face, the thinness of the three boys, and the effect asthma was taking on Noah Reader.
Knowing winter was just around the bend Bibleback carefully watched the couple as they warily spent their remaining cash on pieces of salt pork, cans of coffee, denim for clothing, and beans to be used as the mainstay in their scarce diet. During the time Bibleback had been observing the Reader’s, Noah had been equally observing the clothing of the mountain man. Noah was a tailor by trade and after noticing the rough stitching and poor fit of the man’s buckskin clothing, Reader felt confident that he could make one-day make money tailoring buckskin clothing.
Bibleback introduced himself to Noah and the two fell into conversation about the Reader’s ability, or rather inability, to make it to Montana with winter rapidly nearing. Reader did not know the surrounding area of Rawlins but became interested in the Little Snake River Valley as Bibleback began describing the area where he trapped and lived off and on throughout the year. The mines at Hahn’s Peak were a lucrative factor for the Readers since a man could make day wages working at them and the couple had three to raise and support. Bibleback also mentioned the names of some people living in the region at the time, one of which was Barret. The Reader and Barret families were neighbors in Ohio and since the Barrets lived close to the area of Hahn’s Peak the Readers felt more comfortable knowing they would be moving to an area where they would find old acquaintances. Bibleback offered the cabin he and Bill Slater owned in the Valley to the family, knowing they had enough meat and jerky stocked to get the threadbare family through the winter and the following morning the Readers did not continue northwest but turned south with Bibleback and headed to the Little Snake River Valley.
This was not Noah Reader’s first venture out west. Reader was born in Ohio in 1821; at his majority in 1839, he moved to Illinois and worked in the lead mines for 6 years but grew tired of the same ole routine. As a result he left Illinois to mine for gold in California for 2 years. Reader yearned for the soils of the east but instead of traveling back to his homeland by soil, Noah boarded a ship that rounded Cape Horn and sailed up the coasts of South America before reaching the southeastern United States. Upon returning home, Noah settled down in 1850 with Pennsylvania native, Roshanna Graham, and worked as a farmer and tailor in her family’s small store in Iowa; the couple married shortly and produced four sons, William, George, Albert, and an infant who passed away. However, Noah’s adventurous spirit could never settle in the east and in 1968, he and his family decided to make the move west.
The Reader family survived the first winter in Slater and the following spring they selected a 160 acre location west of Bibleback’s and Slater’s cabin, established a home site on the old Stonewall Ranch, and became the valley’s first permanent settlers. Mrs. Reader quickly evolved into a “pioneer’s pioneer woman.” Mrs. Reader did not see another white woman for three years but was hardly lonely. In a short time, she herself became a friend and doctor to the surrounding area’s Ute Indians. Mrs. Reader found herself not only doctoring the Ute’s but also baking bread for and feeding the roaming Indians as they camped and fished on the banks of the river near the family’s home. The Indians made it known that Mrs. Reader could cure and “help bellyache” and believed she was a true “medicine woman.” The first white woman Mrs. Reader met in Snake River was a wife of Jim Baker and soon after the area began to fill with families and individuals such as the Perkinses, McCargars, Beelers, Salisburys, and Robert McIntosh The Reader family’s home soon became known as a haven for not only Indian’s but for passing travelers, trappers, and miners. As settlers became established Mrs. Reader would ride her small pony several miles to help doctor individuals and their families.
As I mentioned earlier, Noah was a tailor by trade and after observing Bibleback’s clothing he was confident there was a market for well-sewn and properly fitting clothing in the area. His anticipation was right and Noah made a steady income making and repairing clothing for the area’s miners, trappers, mountain men, and settlers. In addition to their cattle herd and Noah’s tailoring business, the Reader’s established a store primarily for the miner’s of Hahn’s Peak. Mrs. Reader would take payment in gold dust and had a small scale in which she would weigh the miner’s precious payments. Mrs. Reader passed away in 1883. Mr. McIntosh made her casket and served as one of her pallbearers as she was the first individual to be buried in the Reader cemetery. Mr. Reader lived to be nearly 100 years old before he passed away and placed next to his wife in the cemetery overlooking the family’s home. The Readers resting place evolved into the Reader Cemetery where many of the Little Snake River Valley’s inhabitants have been laid to rest.