Ralph Asa Barton
1925 ~ 2013
Ralph Asa Barton began life at Summit Creek on the Imnaha River in Oregon on January 6, 1925, becoming the youngest of three born to Ralph Angel Barton and Lenora Hibbs Barton.
By the time he was two Dad was riding horses and helping move cattle throughout the Imnaha River valley and Hells Canyon. He, his mother and father and his sisters, Hazel and Ruth, lived and loved the harsh ranch life and they "didn't want for anything". Dad worked right along in his father and uncles' footsteps, making shakes for the cabins, moving the cattle from the canyons to the mountains, hunting, branding and taking care of the horses and dogs.
At age 9, Dad lost his father to complications of pneumonia and he became the man of the family, tending to the many cattle ranch holdings of his mothers. Lenora traded her Imnaha ranch for ranches on the Snake River on the Idaho side of Hells Canyon about a year later and Dad got to spend more time on the Salmon River and in the town of Riggins "just over the hill".
Dad stayed with Emma Patterson while attending his senior year of high school at Riggins and played on the Riggins football team, graduating in 1943. He enlisted in 1944, trained in Army Infantry for the European Theater and was finally shipped out with full cold weather gear - to the South Pacific! He laughed about that Army snafu to the end. By May 1945 his 25th Division was fighting for the Philippine Island liberation through the jungle of Balete Pass on the island of Luzon when his platoon came under heavy fire. Dad was knocked down by the blast from a mortar but was able to keep going to help the rest of his platoon. While helping drag a fellow soldier to safety, he was hit in both arms and leg with machine gun fire and had a knee mortar fragment go through his cheek, knocking his back teeth out. After all of that, and losing his friend from Clarkston, he continued to try and fight. He was awarded the Bronze Star and Purple Heart for his actions that day and quietly suffered from the wounds and trauma of war for the rest of his life. After participating in the Japan Occupation, and going from Acting First Sergeant to Private and back to Sergeant due to a little 'celebration' because the war was over, he was Honorably Discharged in November 1946.
Dad returned to his home in Hells Canyon where he worked the family ranch holdings out of their Sheep Creek base. He was approached for a permanent position with the US Forest Service in 1951 where he first worked as fire lookout in a tall tree with a platform on John Day Mountain. Over the next 3 decades he developed his skills and became one of a handful of gifted and sought-after Fire Readers and one of the top Fire Bosses in the nation before retiring in February 1980.
In 1954 Dad married Patricia Ann Patterson; they raised 3 children over the next 21 years and traveled to nearly all National Parks in the west. The marriage ended in divorce. Dad met and married Hattie "Tiny" Alkire in February 1976 in Riggins and they enjoyed camping, traveling and visiting friends and family over the years, celebrating each time a new grandchild was born.
Dad was a proud lifetime active member and past 9th District Post Commander of the American Legion Post 130. He also served as Mayor of Riggins for 12 years beginning in 1982; at 'retirement' the city renamed his street "Ace's Place". On September 11, 2010 Dad was able to go on a memorable trip with the Inland Northwest Honor Flight back to the WWII Memorial in Washington D.C. with 34 other WWII vets along with his son and daughter. He said he had never been thanked for his service as much as he was during those 3 days!
A historian's historian, Dad lived to preserve and teach local history and in 2005 he earned the State of Idaho's Esto Perpetua Award for recognition of his outstanding accomplishments in preserving Idaho's heritage. By far, Dad's proudest achievement was his family; he loved making toys (and fixing them later) for the grand-kids. He reveled in the fact that former Forest Service employees from as far back as the 1960's still came to visit him 40 years later.
Dads community service was exemplary including volunteering with the Idaho Centennial, at the Riggins Food Bank and American Legion medical equipment supply, also volunteering with the Association of Idaho Counties, the Riggins Water and Sewer District, the Riggins Cemetery and as Justice of the Peace (married over 58 couples in the front yard, on horseback, on the river and at Heaven's Gate at sunrise). Neighbors and friends can tell of him helping them with anything they needed including chopping wood or repairing windows (usually because his kids broke them out).
Dad had great talent as an artist which evolved over the years. His varied passions included 'packrat' of all things historical, artist in paper, wood, metal and stone. His last project in 2012 was to make his kids and grandkids a 'pictograph' of the sun coming up over the peaks of the Seven Devils Mountains. He was a respected author, historian and humorist, spending countless hours in his basement typing articles and writing down some of his personal experiences for his grandchildren. The main thing Dad did was make a difference in the world.
Dad passed away peacefully from natural causes at his home in Riggins with his family by his side on August 30, 2013.
Survivors include his wife, Tiny, of Riggins; his son John (Arlene) of Peck, ID; daughters Annette (Sandie) of Albion, WA and Adonna (Aaron) of Boise, ID with 7 grandchildren, 5 great-grandchildren; nephew Kim Wilson (Donita) of Weippe, ID; niece Sherri Buffa of Concord, CA; stepsons Mike (Shirley) of Clarkston, WA; Stan (Theresa) of Livingston, MT; Terry (Wendy) of Ellensburg, WA with 6 grandchildren, 7 great-grandchildren. Preceding him in death were his father, mother and both sisters and numerous beloved pets.
A Celebration of his life will be held in Riggins at the Salmon River High School on Saturday, October 5, 2013 at 12 noon MDT. A family dinner will follow with Graveside services at the Riggins Cemetery.
Published in Idaho Statesman on Sept. 15, 2013