Donations of priceless family heirlooms become dazzling displays at the Minidoka County Historical Society Museum near Rupert in southeastern Idaho, where volunteer Ray Stockton builds displays for them.
“Visitors have told me they can’t believe what we have here at the museum in a small town like Rupert,” said Stockton, 84, a museum volunteer since 1974. “We really do have some amazing exhibits.”
During the past four decades, Stockton has seen displays expand steadily to showcase life around the Rupert area, from prehistoric to colonial and modern times. Fossilized mammoth molars and giant bison horns are remnants of prehistoric creatures that roamed the region about 30,000 years ago. A gleaming pocket watch was owned by Benjamin Franklin. A colorful pristine quilt was hand stitched in 1819 and brought to the United States by adventurous British immigrants.
The fossils and watch came from the estate of Sam Osgood Jr. of Rupert in 2004.
“He wanted to share what he had with the community,” Stockton said.
He said he has documentation verifying the watch’s authenticity. It was a gift and token of appreciation from Franklin, postmaster general of the Continental Congress, to Samuel Osgood, who was appointed by George Washington to be the first postmaster general of the United States in 1789. Samuel Osgood started a family tradition of passing on his name, as well as the watch, to his descendants, until, several generations later, Sam Osgood Jr. owned it.
Sam’s father, an amateur paleontologist, also collected prehistoric bones and fossils. In the early 1950s, county workers were digging in the Acequia gravel pit near Rupert and discovered the remains of mammoths and giant bison. He gathered them up and saved them for future generations to appreciate.
Whatever historic items come to the museum at 99 East Baseline Road, instead of seeing rust and dust, Stockton envisions them restored and in a dazzling display. A talented carpenter, artist, and musician, he has made the museum his second home after a friend, who was the historical society president, invited him to help out.
“I’m the type who has to stay busy,” said Stockton, who retired from running a local RV business with his wife, Jean. “I spend eight to 10 hours a day here and love every minute of whatever I’m doing.”
His creativity and commitment to the museum is deeply appreciated, said Anne Davis Schenk, a past acting vice president of the museum board.
“I can’t begin to tell you how much he has contributed to the museum,” she said. “His work on displays has been outstanding as well as his contributions to the board of directors. He has an eye for what a display should look like and what historical value it might have to Minidoka County.”
Stockton has even donated his own collections—horse tack used in a livery and more than 1,000 different types of glass bottles and jars that homesteaders once used. He found many of the jars and bottles throughout Idaho’s backcountry at old mines and homesteads.
“The Mason Company made about 350 types of canning jars of all sizes and colors,” he said.
Reflecting on his nearly half century of volunteerism at the museum, Ray said, “I’ll know when it’s time to quit working here. But it won’t be for a while yet. There’s still too much to do.” ISI