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News & Press: Community Spotlights

AIC Shines Its Community Spotlight on Reubens

Thursday, April 19, 2018  
Posted by: Gay Dawn Oyler
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Scenery near Reubens

Reubens is located on the Camas Prairie at the northern edge of Lewis County. Rolling hills of farmland are interspersed with groves of pine and fir, mountain plateaus, ravines and creeks. Two rivers famous for steelhead fishing—the Clearwater and Snake Rivers—are 12 miles north and 23 miles west, respectively. Much of the land surrounding the city is part of the Nez Perce Indian Reservation.

Reubens is a quintessential bedroom community. Substantially all of the city’s workforce commutes to other cities for work. Lewiston is about 30 miles west on U.S. Highway 95.

Historic Tidbits

In 1805 Lewis, Clark and the Corps of Discovery first encountered the Nez Perce in the Weippe Prairie 30 miles northeast of what is now the city of Reubens. Prior to that time, the Nez Perce Indians had encampments throughout the region.

On February 8, 1887, the U.S. Congress passed the Dawes Severalty Act. The Act authorized Native American tribal lands to be surveyed and specific acreages allotted to tribal members with land not so allocated deemed surplus and available for settlement.

On November 18, 1895, former Nez Perce Reservation land became open for settlement by non-Indians.

Around 1906 the Camas Prairie Railroad planned to build a rail line between Sweetwater, 15 miles northwest, and Grangeville, 75 miles south. Residents in several scattered communities tried to persuade the railroad to build the line through their towns. The emotions of some of the competing interests reached fever pitch.

The railroad settled the matter by building its rail turnaround stop and depot in a location where a Yellow Pine forest once stood. The railroad named the depot Reubens after James Reubens, a Native American of the Nez Perce Tribe who fought with U.S. troops and served as a government interpreter.

Homesteaders moved in to file their claims. In 1908 the townspeople formed the First Presbyterian Church and built a facility that is still in use and continues to be part of the community’s social fabric. In 2006 the city and the First Presbyterian Church celebrated their joint 100th anniversaries at the historic church building.

On January 12, 1912, ten months after the creation of Lewis County, the Lewis County Commissioners approved Reubens becoming an incorporated village.

The Railroad and a Movie

The railroad opened the heavily forested land to logging. At its peak, 17 sawmills were located within four miles of town at which time Reubens had a population of 1,700. As long as the trees lasted, the city prospered. However, beginning in the mid-1900s, market forces and the availability of timber began to have an adverse effect on the area’s timber industry. All of the 17 sawmills closed with a devastating effect on the city’s economy.

In 1978 the city was the location for filming the movie "Breakheart Pass" starring James Bronson and his wife, Jill Ireland. One attraction that drew filmmakers was the Camas Prairie Railroad line on the grade from Lapwai Creek to Reubens. Over a seven-mile stretch, the railroad had seven tunnels and several high wooden trestles crossing deep canyons.

Amenities and Attractions Today

City residents view their rural setting as an asset. They live in a small peaceful community surrounded by fabulous natural beauty, yet within a short drive of urban shopping and medical services.

Three state parks with excellent fisheries and one national park unit are within a short drive of the city.

The 418-acre Winchester Lake State Park with its 103-acre lake is just 11 miles southwest of the city.

The 850-acre Dworshak State Park in the Clearwater National Forest is 15 miles northwest over the mountains. However, most travelers must drive 40 miles on highways 95 and 12 to get there. The park is at the western edge of the 53-mile-long, 16,000-acre Dworshak Reservoir. The hydroelectric Dworshak Dam, completed in 1973, is 717 feet high and 3,300 feet wide.

Hells Gate State Park is located south of Lewiston, 42 miles away. This 960-acre park is part of the 652,488-acre Hells Canyon National Recreation Area. The Area includes North America’s deepest river gorge. This Snake River gorge lies more than a mile below Oregon’s west rim and, on the Idaho side, more than 8,000 feet below He Devil Peak of the Seven Devils Mountains.

The Nez Perce National Historic Park—managed by the National Parks Service and partially staffed by tribal members—is in Spaulding, 30 miles northwest.

The city and the First Presbyterian Church co-sponsor an annual "sausage feed." The sausage feed is now a regional attraction and an example of the City and the church working together for the betterment of the community.

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