In a little old farm town in South East Idaho in a historic hotel is a surprisingly good cajun restaurant by the name of BJ Bayou’s.
The first thing you should know about this place is that it’s legitimately haunted. They have tours, the whole shebang. You can also stay there (NOPE!) to get the full experience.
The second thing you should know is that it is home to this friendly fellow. Yes it’s alive. Yes I’m pretty sure I thought I was in an episode of the Twilight Zone when I walked in for the first time to meet him.
The last thing you should know about this place is that once upon a time, it belonged to my ancestors and was known as The Adams Hotel. You can walk upstairs into an area where the owner lives with her son and see the letters on the brick wall in their bathroom, which used to be the exterior of the hotel. She will also tell you about all the ghosts that live there and what kind of mischief they get into.
Everyone needs to have a family-history adventure regularly. It could be an actual travel adventure to homes and towns that belonged to the people who are responsible for your existence, or it could be scrolling through family trees online and reading stories and looking at photos. But it needs to be a thing in your family, trust me.
Did you know that your kids actually benefit from knowing stories from their own family history? Turns out, kids have a greater sense of control, emotionally and physically, in their lives when they hear stories of their ancestors overcoming hard things. Or not overcoming them. Or falling in love. Or owning slaves (looking at you, Ben Affleck…).
Good, bad, or ugly, learning their stories improves your children’s lives. Societies that value and repeat their own histories verbally are less likely to repeat them physically, and what better history to hear about than the people they were born from?
In the Spring of 2017, my mother, sister and I did just this. We met up with some family in Idaho Falls, ID where my mother’s family grew up. Interestingly, my grandmother and her sister married my grandfather and his brother, so when we go to visit family there, it often involves cousins and aunts and uncles on both sides of my mom’s family. We took time to visit some of the homes that her parents and grandparents had grown up in.
We had dinner at the ever-eclectic BJ Bayou’s and paid a friendly hello to our friend the alligator at the old Adams Hotel. We took a soak at the sulfuric Heise Hot Springs where legend has it my grandparents met while working there one summer.
Our last night we stayed with my mom’s brother and his family in Park City, Utah as we were flying out from Salt Lake City the next day. My other uncle was there visiting as well and he pulled up some old videos and photos of my grandmother from his laptop to the TV. We all wiped away a few tears as we heard her oh-so familiar voice scoffing at my uncle on camera (she always hated having her photo taken) and pretended it was like having her there in person.
As he was flipping through files and photos, an image popped up briefly that I immediately recognized, even though I had never seen it in my life. My skin prickled as I told him to stop to get a closer look at it. I knew in an instant it was a photo I’d been looking for for years.
It didn’t have particular significance to anyone else in the room, other than the fact that one of the gentlemen in the photo was the famed Sheriff “Six-Shooter” Newt, my grandfather’s grandfather. The other man in the photo was a ghost until that moment, when a very old puzzle piece finally fell into place seeing it in person.
I never would have seen it or found it if I hadn’t have come on this trip.
An uncanny connection
I specifically remember one night, while my husband and I were only dating, when I was talking to his mom during a family dinner. I discovered that even though she grew up in rural Virginia, she was actually born in Rigby, Idaho, and that it was where her father and her father’s father were raised and built their families. Rigby is not a large place, and we thought this information was a great treasure as our families were sure to know each other at least by acquaintance.
Soon after, we learned that our grandfathers knew of each others’ families. Some details were not known at the time, but we certainly thought it was a huge coincidence, particularly considering that Craig and I had found each other in Colorado, hundreds of miles from where either of our parents grew up.
My grandmother was ill the week of our wedding and wasn’t able to make it, so Craig and I made sure to schedule a trip to go see her some months after we had gotten married in St. George, UT.
We made a round-about trip to visit some of our family in Utah, and my grandfather was delighted to tell me that William Eugene Rhodes (Craig’s great-great-grandfather) and William “Six Shooter Newt” Joseph Newton Adams (my great-great grandfather) had in fact been good friends. He had memories of family get-togethers with both families as a child, although he couldn’t remember Craig’s living grandfather Bill Rhodes, and Bill Rhodes didn’t remember my grandfather Newt Adams either. They both definitely knew of each other’s families, Adams and Rhodes, though.
Friends made family, generations later
Months later, my grandfather sent me a manilla envelope with a letter and a photo, scanned and printed, of a friendly looking gentleman on a horse waving his hat at the camera. On the back of the photo, the name “Bill Rhodes” was scribbled. In the letter he explained in his long, disjointed handwriting that he was sure that he had a photo of Bill Rhodes and Six-Shooter together, but couldn’t find it at the time.
He had, however, found a photo of Bill stashed somewhere and had scanned it to send to me. Craig’s grandfather, who coincidentally shares the same name, as did my grandfather “Newt” Adams after him as well, confirmed after seeing the photo that it was indeed Bill Rhodes.
Once upon a time, the small town of Rigby, Idaho was made better by two friends who shared time together as sheriff and deputy. Their service spanned the early to late 1920s and they switched spots, the one serving as sheriff while the other supported as deputy. Their families stayed connected through the years and they both were buried in the same town. You can be sure my next trip to Idaho will include finding both of their gravestones as well, something I didn’t think to do while we were there.
Learn your family history
However small, take a moment sometime in the next week and ask your family to tell you some stories. Subscribe to a family history site and look how far back your family tree goes. Show it to your kids. Tell them the stories. They may be bored to tears, but it will build something inside of them that will fortify their foundations. And they will have sources to draw from to tell their kids.
My middle school daughter recently did a report at school about this photo and this story. I didn’t think she even remembered the story, but it meant something to her. She thought it was cool. She absorbed it into her own life story enough to want to share it with her friends. And she has a photo of two gentleman on horses on a hot day with ropes and saddles who were friends, and now years later are family.