Let the Feds Sue; Esther Palmer Thinks Her 66 Years of Domain Are Preeminent
There’s no place in this world for a meek person,” says one-half of the population of Montour, Idaho. “The meek aren’t gonna inherit the earth—the meek are gonna be crushed.” That rewrite of the Sermon on the Mount comes from uncrushable Esther Palmer, 80, and what she means is that she (or her daughter Frances, 50, the other half) isn’t about to be forced off her 11 acres, come government or high water.
A U.S. Attorney has filed a condemnation suit to evict the Palmers, allegedly to protect them from the Payette River, which often floods because of silt piling up behind the Black Canyon Dam. The feds figure that buying up the town would be cheaper than dredging the river. Esther calls that stupid, among other things. “I could live here the rest of my life and not be hurt,” she snorts, “unless we had a worse flood than I’ve ever seen here.” She’s talking from 66 years’ experience in the area.
The government started acquiring Montour in 1975, when 100 souls lived there—and soon owned everything but Esther’s land. “People got scared,” she explains. “They were afraid the government would take their property through condemnation.” The Palmers had a lot of history to protect. Esther had come to Idaho from Kansas in a horse and buggy before World War I and settled in her present house 58 years ago. She married a railroad man, raised a son and two daughters there and stayed to work the farm with Frances after the other children left and her husband died in 1971.
Esther is still glad she did. Besides raising vegetables and hay (they harvested 1,200 bales last year), the Palmer women tend 30 sheep and 100 chickens plus a dog and miscellaneous cats her former neighbors left behind. Off-hours, the Palmers watch TV or drive into Boise, 40 miles south. Not I that they’re lonely. Ex-neighbors drop in sometimes, and people passing by get out of their cars to ask why the town is boarded up. “I have company galore,” she says, “and I just love it. I only wish I knew that I could spend the rest of my life here.”
The government offered Esther $63,450 for her place last year, but she turned it down—only to be slapped with the condemnation order. Her response will be that she can’t find comparable farm land for that price and can’t live on Social Security. When an official from the Bureau of Reclamation (named, perfectly, Goodsell) stopped by not long ago to try to change her mind, Esther threw him out. “I’m not afraid of floods or much of anything else,” she says unmeekly. “I’ve meandered around San Francisco after dark and if you can do that, you can do anything. I’m going to fight to the end.”