The Island That Time Forgot

A brief history of Keefer’s Island

Published online: Nov 06, 2020 Looking Back Jeff Carr, Research by Judy House, Museum of Idaho
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Keefer’s Island is one of those rare places that means exactly what it’s supposed to. A rugged island in the middle of a growing city. A curiosity. A close, visible tribute to a larger-than-life citizen. An untouchable remnant of our frontier past—a past he held onto as long as he could.

Fred Keefer (1891-1987) loved the Old West. After all, he grew up there, riding and shooting and exploring with his twin brother Frank. It was a life he longed for as an adult, as suggested by his hat, boots and red bandana framing a scraggly beard. Then there was the scrapbook he fashioned out of leather and pelt, and lovingly filled with photos and newspaper clippings spanning decades—some about his family, but most just about the West—records of outlaws and mountains and native chiefs.

As the new century rolled on, Fred continued to hunt out remnants of that bygone era. In 1939, he filed a mining claim on an island in the middle of the Snake, not far above the dam and retaining wall that he and Frank as teenagers had helped their father build. Eagle Rock had changed its name to Idaho 

Falls just months after Fred was born there, but the Keefer's wall finally made the name accurate. 

In another Old West move, Fred joined the Bonneville County Sheriff’s Office, where he proudly served 21 years as deputy, including a stint as acting sheriff. He was with the office while living on the island, rowing back and forth each day between centuries. In addition to the one-room cabin, visible today from restaurant terraces and bike paths, he built a pump house, a tool shed and a chicken coop, using Douglas fir logs that he cut near the South Fork and towed to the island, two or three at a time, behind his rowboat. Now at home, Fred raised chickens, pheasants and rabbits, and watched over beaver dams. Sources say he once kept a tame bear, given to him by an acquaintance—no doubt a fellow frontiersman.

Fred lived on the island off and on, mostly in summers, for 20 years. He never owned the land—not according to the Bureau of Land Management—but he owned his buildings, and he sold it all to the city for $1 nonetheless. His only stipulation was that it be forever known as Keefer’s Island, as if it could ever be anything else. 

Click here to read more of the November isssue.

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