Wallowa, Wallowa County, Oregon
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Long-time Imnaha resident, A. L. Duclett dies at age 104
A. L. Duckett, who died last week at the age of 104, spent most of his adult life in Imnaha. He can be regarded as one of the most influential and popular citizens in Wallowa County’s history.
By Elane Dickenson of the Chieftain
Armel Lee Duckett, better known by his initials, A.L., died in Prineville last week after spending virtually all of his adult life as one of Imnaha’s leading citizens. The small Imnaha church built just 10 years ago on land he donated was packed with family and friends during his funeral service Saturday.
During his long life, A.L. Duckett was interviewed many times by the Chieftain, and the following account was put together from information he supplied, as well as from a short summary of his life, hand-written in pencil by Duckett himself a few years ago.
A native of Missouri, working 100-150 acres with a team by the time he was 15, he came to Oregon with his family when he was about 19, working for awhile in the railroad shops in La Grande where he learned to be a boiler maker.
Duckett came for the first time to Wallowa County in 1916, working as a ranch hand on Prairie Creek, and then enlisted in the U.S. Army, in which he served as a cook in Europe during World War I. He was assigned tot he 4th Division for overseas duty in 1918 in Bordeau, France, where he served until the Armistice on Nov. 11, 1918. He then hiked into Germany for occupation duty. “In 1919, I received my Red Chevron, of which I was pretty proud,” Duckett wrote.
Duckett dated his actual residency in Wallowa County from October, 1919, when he was discharged from the service and returned to make his home in Imnaha.
Duckett went to work there for Bailey Maxwell as a clerk in the store and post office and as a stage driver. Duckett drove the Imnaha-Enterprise stage for a couple of years, making the round trip between the two towns three times a week, traveling 8-10 hours a day; in the winter he’d trade stage wagon for a sled.
A.L. had a homestead on the Imnaha, and was also Imnaha’s pioneer garage man. In the fall of 1921 he purchased a blacksmith shop from Ross Falconer for $100, and later built the building which now houses the cafe, using part of it as a blacksmith shop. When the automobile took over from the horse Duckett went along with the times, “I shod horses, overhauled engines, sold gas and hardware,” he said. A man who was good at anything he tried, Duckett also became town barber. He sold the garage in 1952.
Duckett married Rowena Johnson in January, 1925; they had two sons, Jack of Prineville and Leland, who preceded A.L. in death, as did his wife Rowena, the daughter of Imnaha pioneers Jack and Florence Findley Johnson.
Known for his inventions, two in particular became famous. They were the Duckett sheepherder stove, which he designed and began manufacturing in 1923, eventually selling hundreds in three states over the next few years, and a steel inlay horseshoe with a hard toe caulk that gave horses traction on ice and in the rugged rim rock canyon country of the Imnaha and the Snake.
A.L. Duckett was appointed to the Imnaha election board in 1922 and served 65 years, and served 35 years on the Imnaha School Board. Duckett was chairman of the first county zoning commission, which became the Wallowa County Planning Commission, serving nine years.
He was instrumental in getting the Little Sheep Creek highway built, and working with a man named Lester Robinson installed the Imnaha water system.
Duckett and Robinson also devised and installed a hydroelectric power plant at the Imnaha Bridge in 1941 which provided electricity until Idaho Power Co. transmission lines came through from Brownlee Dam in 1962. Duckett was largely responsible for getting the power company to provide local power for the Imnaha residents, a service which the company at first said would be too costly.
Honors bestowed on A.L. Duckett by his fellow Wallowa County citizens through the years include a testimonial dinner in his honor in 1964 by the Joseph Chamber of Commerce, being named Wallowa County Father of the Year in 1969 by Wallowa County CowBelles, receiving the Distinguished Service Award in 1971 by the Jaycees and being selected as Chief Joseph Days grand marshal in 1972.
“I hesitate to think I am entitled to all these honors, but am deeply grateful to the ones responsible for them” he wrote, adding with a sense of humor, “I am sure that I will be remembered by many as one who could have put in more time minding my own business.”
In all A.L. Duckett spent 69 years in Wallowa County before moving just a few years ago to Prineville to be near his son Jack. He continued to grow his locally famous Imnaha corn until he was almost 90, as well as tended a garden and canned garden produce well into his 90’s. He donated the land on which the first-ever Imnaha church was built 10 years ago, and also crafted the pews.
Funeral services were held Saturday, Dec. 12 in the church that is part of the legacy of a man who contributed his talent and energy to his community for the best part of a century. A.L. Duckett is buried in Prairie Creek Cemetery near Joseph.
Wallowa County Chieftain, Enterprise, Wallowa County, Oregon, On-Line Week of December 17, 1998
(My thanks to the Duckett family of Prineville for allowing these obituaries to be placed on the site)