Minerva Lovena Smith Fry

Minerva Lovena Smith was born in Iowa on January 5, 1849 to Fredrick and Nancy Smith. The family left their home in April 1852, with dreams of a new life, and began the trek on the Oregon Trail. Fred and Nancy uprooted their children: 8 year old Emily, 7 year old Leandor, 5 year old Theodore, 3 year old Minerva and 8 month old Phina. He packed their belongings in their oxen drawn covered wagon with horses and cows in tow.

The trip proved to be harsher than they could ever have imagined and it soon became a fight for life. Along the way, the horses and cows were dying and Leandor became desperately ill with dysentery. Soon after, Nancy also became ill with dysentery and was too weak to leave the wagon. The strain on the oxen forced Fred to leave some of their belongings along the trail and even made the three older children walk. Lee, who had survived dysentery by drinking extra water, was weak but continued to walk alongside the wagon. It pained Nancy to watch her three children walking in the dust and heat, so she gave them each turns resting in the wagon with her, Minerva, and Phina.

Young Minerva became ill, and Nancy in her weakened state attended to her. One morning, Minerva died. Her parents dressed her for burial in her best pink dress and placed her in a coffin for burial after sunset. In the early afternoon of that day, a doctor and his wife drove into the camp inquiring about those who were sick. While the doctor’s wife was caring for Nancy, she cried telling the woman about her baby girl who had died that morning. The woman asked if she could see the child. After seeing the little girl, the doctor’s wife asked Nancy if she could tend to the child for a bit. She was given consent, and began massaging her with hot and cold baths. In about three hours, little Minerva came out of the coma she was in and eventually recovered.

Most of their furniture had been thrown out along the trail; the oxen were exhausted; there was little food. Crossing the Rockies was terrible. Little Minerva was unable to walk, so Nancy carried her. They reached the Columbia River and took the wheels off the covered wagon to float down the river. Reaching the Cascade Rapids, they needed to portage their belongings five miles around the rapids. Fred and Nancy took the children first and left them to return for their belongings. Putting the wheels back on the wagon, night came upon them and they spent the night at the upper end of the rapids away from the children. In the morning they hurried to where the children had spent the night to find the family dog, Turk, guarding them. They then floated on down to Portland where they took refuge in an abandoned cabin. They lived there for that first winter.

In the spring of 1853, Fred left the family at the cabin to search for land to homestead. He found a piece along the Cowlitz River (present site of Kelso, WA) and built a log cabin, sending word to Nancy and the children to come. With a new life, things began to improve for the family. Four years later Lorenzo Perry was born, fourteen months later Mary Ellen, and three years later Isabella Roy.

In 1864, at age 15, Minerva married Martin M. Fry in Vancouver, WA. Martin had a restless pioneer spirit, so the first eleven years of their marriage were spent moving from place to place throughout Oregon and Washington. Martin and Minerva had three sons: Adelbert Clair born in 1865, Alva Levergne born in 1866, and Frederick Leroy born in 1875.

Martin and Minerva moved to The Ferry (Bonners Ferry) in 1875 to be near Martin’s brother Richard Fry. They, with their three sons, lived in a cabin built by Edward Bonner and company. They were the first white family to take up residence along the Kootenai River.

Minerva Fry was the first teacher at The Ferry; her students being her own children, Richard and Justine Fry’s children and occasionally children of the Kootenai tribe. In 1883, she organized a one-room school in an old building on the Northside using phonics texts and the Bible. With no school district, she was her own superintendent. A schoolhouse was built in 1888, and in 1895, a school district was formed with her husband, Martin as President of the School Board.

Minerva was pleased when Martin had a modern home built on the Northside. A spring supplied water for her orchard and large garden. This home became the railroad hospital in 1892, and Martin and Minerva moved to a newly constructed home further up on the hill. Minerva enjoyed “camping” trips to the small cabin they owned on eighty acres in the valley near Ball Creek. Traveling by horse drawn wagon to the cabin, Minerva was opposed to Martin purchasing an auto; which he did anyway. His first trip out driving, he crashed the auto, and immediately it was gone!

Being a nurturing woman, Minerva raised her grandson, Charlie Fry and also cared for her brothers, Leander O. and Lorenzo Perry Smith who had moved to Fry, Idaho to be near her. Perry Smith died in 1905 leaving her 160 acres and a small cabin on Smith Lake, for whom the lake is named. Leander died in 1908 and both were buried at Grandview Cemetery.

At age 72, Minerva Lovena Smith Fry died on June 8, 1921 and was buried alongside her brothers. Martin M. Fry lived to be 93 years old and in 1935 was laid to rest beside his loving wife.

Note: In old England, they started running out of places to bury people. So they would dig up coffins and take the bones to a “bone-house” and reuse the gravesites. When reopening these coffins, one out of 25 coffins were found to have scratch marks on the inside and they realized they had been burying people alive. So they would tie a string on the wrist of the corpse, lead it through the coffin and up through the ground, and tie it to a bell. Someone would sit out in the graveyard all night (the “graveyard shift”) to listen for the bell; thus, someone could be “saved by the bell.”

Had young Minerva been buried on the Oregon Trail in 1852, she would not have lived her “full” life teaching and nurturing those she loved dearly.

Minerva Lovena Smith Fry
Tagged on:     

2 thoughts on “Minerva Lovena Smith Fry

  • July 9, 2023 at 4:21 pm

    This was so wonderful to stumble upon while researching my family background. This is my great-great-grandma, my paternal grandfather’s grandmother! I knew some history about Martin’s brother, Richard Fry, but I hadn’t heard Minerva’s wonderful history. Thank you so much for having this information on record. It is now on my bucket list to come to Bonner’s Ferry.

    • October 28, 2023 at 3:48 pm

      This is my husband’s great-great-grandma. It is amazing to have this information to share with our kids. I am a teacher myself so it is so cool to know that one of his family members was the first teacher at the Ferry. I love that this information is so accessible.

Please Comment or Leave a Memory

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *