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As It Was: Thomas Rilea Stranded in Snow on Christmas 1917

In late December 1917, Thomas Rilea traveled from Portland to Agness, Ore., to spend Christmas with his family.  He rode a train south to West Force Station and set out on the 18-mile overland hike home.

A winter storm brewed, so Rilea followed the tracks in the snow made by the mail carrier’s mule pack.  By dusk, he’d covered only half the distance, so Rilea prepared for the night.  He built a fire, settled into a hollow log for shelter, and ate the remains of his packed lunch.

Rilea anticipated tagging along with the next day’s mail-delivery mule pack, but a blizzard kept it from arriving.  His situation was dire, but he knew he’d be missed by his family.  They were expecting him, but passed the holiday without him. 

Search parties ventured out with snowshoes and horses, shouting his name along the route.  Having spent four nights on the mountain, Rilea weakly answered their calls.

Rilea recovered from the exposure and his parents arranged for his return to Portland, but not by way of the trail to West Fork station.

Source: "Caught in Storm." Gold Beach Reporter, 28 Dec. 1917, p. 3

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Laurel earned a Bachelor’s degree in Geography from Humboldt State. Her research efforts as a volunteer for the Curry Historical Society produced numerous newsletter articles and exhibits and earned her a reputation as a seasoned local history buff. Laurel is the author of "Renderings from the Gold Beach Pioneer Cemetery", a 50-page booklet containing a walking tour and snippets about the lives and times of folks buried there. She is also a contributing writer to Oregon Coast Magazine.