Humble Heroes

Ted Anderson: A Living Legend

Ted was almost ninety years old when I met him. His home on the corner of Tenth and Main was a clean and tidy place. It was nondescript except for the huge pine tree in the front yard. His daughter Tammy had scrap books laid out on the dining table. She was anxious to share memorabilia that accounted for decades of family history. She read books I had written about the Idaho backcountry and wanted me to preserve her family. There were lots of books about men who pioneered the iconic river, but nothing about the Andersons… the family that for generations developed and managed the business of Middle Fork whitewater recreation.

Anderson Family History

It was important to Tammy; not as important to Ted. He loved the river and spent the majority of his long life working on it, but didn’t see where his contribution had been any greater than anyone else. He listened as Tammy related anecdotes about her father Ted and grandfather Andy. There were pictures from the family’s Bar-X Ranch; advertising pamphlets from the 1940s. Lots of magazine articles from Life, Field & Stream, Argosy, and the Saturday Evening Post were on the table. I had no idea that Andy received so much publicity or that it was national in reach. Their pride in family was evident, and rightly so; theirs was a history that now spanned four generations.

Original Bar X Pamphlet

As the conversation continued, Ted moved toward a chair at the dining table and readied himself like old men do before sinking down to take a seat. But as he turned his back toward the chair and began to bend his legs, he made eye contact with me and seemed to change his mind. With an imperceptible nod of his head and a ‘come this way’ wag of his finger, he rose from almost-sitting to lead me through the living room. I paid attention as I followed him toward the hall.

Ted Anderson of Humble Heroes
Ted Anderson: Middle Fork River Manager (retired)

He wore a blue-on-blue plaid flannel shirt open for the first two buttons and jeans. He still had hair but not much of it, balding in the middle on top. His glasses were large copper-colored metal ones which framed brown eyes that were very much alive. He felt familiar, like an uncle might, and I followed him to the short passage from the main area of the house to the bedrooms.

Guide to Presidents

“This is my Hall of Fame,” he said matter-of-factly, pointing at pictures that lined both sides of the hall. Two dozen pictures in wooden five-and-dime frames adorned the walls around us.

“That’s Bush. Bush Senior, with the Department of Agriculture Secretary and myself.”

I knew the former President’s face, but he was younger in the picture than I remembered. Set in the lower left-hand corner of the frame was a wallet-sized snapshot of Ted with some goofy Groucho Marx glasses, a contrast to the straight-faced tour guide in front of me. And it made me laugh a little; clearly, he didn’t take himself too seriously.

President Carter on the Middle Fork
President Jimmy Carter on the Middle Fork with Ted

“And this over here, in this picture, is Peanuts… that’s what I called him. Carter.”

Another former President of the most powerful nation on Earth.

“..and his helicopter.” Signed and personalized for the river guide. Each picture of dignitaries was also a picture of Ted Anderson, stocky and wearing a life vest, with a Forest Service cap on his heavy head. He seemed unimpressed, as if sharing his history was more a duty than a pleasure. If Ted had an ego, it did not accompany us to the hall.

Father and Son

He glanced at other pictures on the wall but did not bother to explain them. Instead, he turned around and pointed at frames on the other side. He looked back and forth at the two color portraits that were faded brown and amber and auburn by long years in dim light in the hall.

“That’s my dad. And me.” He looked with his chin up and put his hands in his pockets.

Humble Heroes: Andy and Ted Anderson
Andy and Ted Anderson: Humble Heroes

The pictures of father and son were the ones I remembered most. They were full frontal portraits, both men straight-faced and both wearing red bandanas on their heads, not to be cool, but to catch the sweat that came from long days in the sun. They wore white t-shirts and shared some facial features, though Ted’s unshaven face had darker hair and eyes. Andy looked tired, like a man who stayed up too many nights planning and reworking his plan for success. I stared at the pictures to get a feel for the men.

A Family Man

There was a picture of a baby, maybe his daughter Tammy, on the wall. He pointed at a group in a raft splashing through some rapids.

“And this is my family on a family trip. Those were my favorites.”

His favorites, he said. Not the ones he took with Presidents and VIPs as a representative of the Forest Service, but the trips he took with family.

Ted Anderson and Family on the Middle Fork
The Andersons on the Middle Fork

He paused, enjoying what seemed a pleasant memory.

“I just thought you might be…  yeah,” he finished without finishing, a modest man sharing what someone else found interesting. He turned off the light and led me out of the hall, back to where the family was gathered around magazine articles and photos.

Middle Fork

Being from Texas, I had never heard of the Anderson family. I knew nothing about whitewater recreation on the Middle Fork of the Salmon River in Idaho until I started working at the B-C. All I knew about Idaho was that it was one of the last primitive areas of the country, where hard men harvested big elk and hosted hunters with money and bravado enough to vacation in its dark steep mountains. I knew that the ranch bordered the Frank Church Wilderness – the largest contiguous wilderness area in the Lower 48.

I did not know that the Middle Fork was the second-most-popular whitewater destination in the country, with ten thousand visitors floating the river every summer. The only destination more popular than the Middle Fork was the famous Grand Canyon, although the Impassable Canyon at the end of the Middle Fork boasted higher vertical relief. Reading about its history while working at the ranch, I was amazed at what I did not know.

Andy Anderson on the Middle Fork
Andy Anderson Riding thru Hancock Rapids

It seemed so long ago but, in truth, it was the recent past; just a couple generations after Civil War veterans populated Leesburg, Idaho in an effort to ‘strike it rich’. The Andersons pioneered their dream before I was born, before the Second World War, before virtually anyone in the country even knew that ‘whitewater’ was recreation. On the tail end of World War II, the Andersons loaded their first paying customers onto rubber rafts and floated them down the Middle Fork for the wilderness experience of a lifetime.

Humble Heroes

History seems to favor the bold and adventurous. Some men who thought themselves bold and adventurous carved their names into trees and left their sign by the trail in vain attempts to be more than they were… to create legend where it did not exist. In reality, history was more often made by unassuming men whose secret accomplishments seemed the by-product of extraordinary efforts to lead ordinary lives.

Ted Anderson: My Friend (& a Living Legend)

Middle Fork history was made by the Andersons, a typical American family that, over a period of almost sixty years, helped create and manage one of the largest and most unique wilderness experiences in the country. They accomplished things of lasting importance that few in their community would ever know about… heroes forever humble for whom we should be thankful.

(excerpts from “Humble Heroes“)

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  1. No surprise that a member of the Greatest Generation would be so unassuming, that his pictures of family were treasured well above pictures of Presidents. We are fortunate to have these “humble heroes” walk amongst us.

    • Most surprising was how few people in that small town knew how much he and his dad had accomplished. Wonderful people. I met him for lunch when I was there last summer.

  2. Such an amazing family, and as kind as they are humble. It was a pleasure to meet them when we were there.

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