Monday, June 10, 2013

Foreword from The Iron Door: An Oral History Project of Nozzy Valley, Idaho

[Handwritten note to Iron Door (the person):
Dear Mr. Door:
Perhaps you are familiar with my book, published in 1995 by McFarland Press: The Iron Door: An Oral History Project of Nozzy Valley, Idaho. If you are not, I dare say you would find it of considerable interest. A complementary copy is winging its way to you via U. S. Mail as I write. I shall submit some selected interviews for consideration in your "Iron Door Story-Off" (contest) in future. For a context enabling your full appreciation of those interviews, I send you this Foreword to the book. Enjoy!
--Robert Q. Evans II]


The interviews included in this book are transcribed from face-to-face interviews conducted by the editor with the residents of the Nozzy Valley between October 1991 and May 1995. These interviews were recorded on a 1978 RCA audio recorder console and transcribed directly, all by the editor. All interviewees lived in the Nozzy region--town or surrounding farmlands--for significant portions of their lives. The interviewer's purpose is to record for posterity Nozzyites' recollections, both personal and second-hand, of the region's Iron Door legend.
As a legend, the story of the Iron Door is by definition neither plainly factually true nor demonstrably false. Its hard facts, embellishments, and outright fabrications are impossible to identify and separate authoritatively.

The Iron Door Legend (a composite description assembled by the editor)

The broad, flat Nozzy Valley provides a natural passageway between Salt Lake City, Utah and key travel junctures northwards, such as Pocatello and Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, Helena, Montana, and the Canadian border. Thus, in the late nineteenth century, it naturally became a well-traveled route for stagecoaches and wagon trains. That, in turn, meant that the Nozzy Valley became home to many stagecoach bandits. Some local residents referred to the road running through Nozzy as the "Gold Road" because of all the wealthy people traveling through with valuables on their way to Canada, northern Idaho, or Oregon.
One gang in particular became notorious in Nozzy in the early 1880s. This three-man group was called the Iron Door Gang, because their lair, containing ill-gotten gold and valuables plus dynamite and firearms, was protected by an impenetrable iron door. The Nozzy Historical Museum, now [1995] open by appointment only in downtown Nozzy, describes the iron door as "made from two wagon wheels and a thin sheet of iron." The Iron Door sealed off a naturally occurring cave that had been further excavated using TNT and hand shovels. The Iron Door cave sat "near the top of one of the peaks[,] where the view offered escape from any approaching posse."
The legend of the Iron Door began while the Iron Door gang was still supposed to have been operating, in the mid-1880s. One Mormon bishop who traveled through the area in August 1886 reported in his diary that the gang had taken his "gold all one hundred and three dollars worth, and [his] temple garments, at which [garments] they did point and laugh for a considerable long while before tearing into small pieces." One thirty-year-old housewife on her way to Portland noted that the three bandits who robbed her stagecoach were "perfect gentlemen in every way, except that they inconvenienced the ladies very much by taking away their jewelry and coin purses willy-nilly." She reported that although "they would not accept an answer of 'No, Sir,'" they did "request the handing over of all goods and moneys with great politeness and genteel manners." Only two injuries were ever reported to have been caused by the Iron Door Gang. In each case, the man being robbed drew a pistol to attack the bandits, who then shot the gun out of his hand. The gang made no other attacks upon travelers. They only wanted travelers' "portable property."

The Iron Door legend was common knowledge in the Nozzy Valley, often retold and much loved, until the mid-twentieth century. Groups of teenaged boys and young men regularly took "Iron Door Expeditions" in the hills where the cave was supposed to have been. None entered the cave, though many reported sightings. Through the 1930s and 40s, Malad Elementary students put on a play each 4th of July celebrating Nozzy's history and highlighting the Iron Door story. But in the 50s new forms of entertainment such as television and rock 'n' roll began to claim young people's attention. The last known Iron Door Expedition occurred in the late summer of 1980. The legend slipped steadily from community memory over the decades. Currently, the Iron Door legend is known well only by a few long-term residents of Nozzy over fifty years of age. The legend survives, too, in the names of the Iron Door Playhouse on Nez Perce Street, and the Iron Door Restaurant on Route 7 in northern Nozzy Valley. That is the purpose of this book, to record the legend while some Nozzyites still remember it.

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