Lifelong Long Creek resident Reiba Carter Smith recalls a childhood of “freedom” and “innocence” in a community she has called “home” her entire life.
Smith, the fifth generation in her family to live in Long Creek, said she is “perfectly satisfied with my life and growing up.”
She was raised on a ranch a mile east of town, along with her three younger sisters and younger brother. Their father, Benton, was a registered Hereford breeder while their homemaker mother, Loraine, kept the home front running.
Several other ranching families lived nearby.
“When I was a kid, every ranch had children,” Smith said.
And, except for school, most of their time was spent close to home.
“We romped and played all around the ranch,” she said. “We were very innocent and isolated until I turned about 6.”
“It was a treat to come to town,” she added, which they did once or twice a month. A favorite indulgence for Smith on those trips was an orange pop from the local store.
A large extended family, which included 18 first cousins on the Carter side, helped contribute to her rich and happy youth.
Major holidays and other special family days meant big dinners at the home of Smith’s grandmother, Martha Carter.
“Families were close in those days,” she said.
Smith’s roots stretch back to 1875 when her great-grandparents, William and Perniece Paralee (Blackwell) Carter, moved to Long Creek from Oklahoma and Arkansas. Post-Civil War turmoil in that area drove them to seek more peaceful environs. They soon brought over his mother, Berthanna Carter, who settled in Fox. Her cabin is preserved in the Beech Creek area.
Smith’s grandparents, Sam and Martha (Harryman) Carter, and parents, Benton and Loraine (Kelly) Carter, all lived in Long Creek.
Growing up, horseback riding and fishing were among Smith’s favorite activities. She reminisces their father piling her and siblings into the truck for Fourth of July trips to the Desolation mining camp.
Other ventures included mountain picnics as well as swimming trips to the Joaquin Miller pool, where she first learned to swim, and Ritter and Lehman hot springs.
And then there were the mud pies.
“I kind of enjoyed making mud pies,” Smith said, adding they sometimes swiped eggs from the kitchen and their mother’s bottle of Jergens lotion to help firm up the mud pie mix.
Smith was active at school too, especially high school, where she played softball and volleyball. In the latter, Long Creek’s team was “the top dog,” she said.
School plays were common every year, Smith said — both a senior and junior one, often followed by a dance afterward. An annual spring music festival was held in May, hosted by a different school each year and attended by all the other area schools. Each would prepare a musical program to present for the event, which included a maypole dance.
After World War II, Smith recalls a veteran visited the school and taught tumbling to the students, resulting in an active tumbling team for several years afterward. Smith said missionaries and members of the Gideons sometimes visited the school and brought Bibles for the students, which she thought would be unheard of today.
She did confess to one incident in Mitchell during softball season, in which she and three “chums” took the machine that makes the chalk lines on the field. The mischievous group soon returned it, but in the interim, Smith said she “didn’t sleep at all.”
As in any community, Long Creek has seen many changes to the number and variety of its businesses. Those Smith recalls during her life there include a hotel, drug store, three gas stations, two mills and two “pastimes” — or saloons. In the 1940s, a local man with a projector set up a movie theater of sorts in a white building near the park. During different time periods, there were also a couple of general merchandise stores — Moore’s, which was converted into a movie theater in the 1950s, and Sherm Kahler’s.
Smith, in a class of seven students, graduated in 1958. She earned a degree in education from Eastern Oregon University, and went on to teach at Long Creek, Condon, Cove and Grant Union schools.
Her aunt, Estella Carter Boyer, served as Grant County School superintendent.
Smith and her husband, a 1957 Prairie City School graduate, have been married for 53 years —a union that resulted from a blind date. They have three grown children — two are teachers, and one is a plumber — and eight grandchildren.
She’s lived in the same home, which was a mill house, for almost 50 years.
Smith summed her life in “community-oriented” Long Creek with one word: “Freedom.”