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CANYON COUNTY -- Gary Eller is a musician who sings and plays guitar and banjo. He is also a collector of really old songs about Idaho, such as Beautiful Snow In Idaho.

The name of the district is Smoky, for that was its name long ago.
Where the people are happy and OK, in the absence of beautiful snow.
The snow falls deep in the hilltops, and slides to the valleys below.
For there's where the avalanche stops, in the mountains of Idaho.

It's a sarcastic serenade to the rough winters in the Idaho mountains. Eller says it was written in 1893, possibly by a miner.

They weren't really keen about avalanches and frostbite and starving to death because they couldn't get out to get supplies, said Eller.

Since 2007 he has been scouring the state for songs written before 1923, the year radio came to Idaho.

So I'm after songs that say something about the people and the places specifically, Eller said.

He heads up the Idaho Songs Project. With the help of grants from the Idaho Humanities Council he has found and preserved about 200 old-time Idaho songs.

They come from archival searches of libraries, museums, occasionally private collections, said Eller. So it's a lot of work to dig those out.

One of his favorites is called Trip to Salmon from way back in 1862.

I looked to the north and I looked to the south
And I saw the Californians coming,
With their picks, pans and shovels on their backs,
They were traveling their way up to Salmon.

The story about people complaining about Californians in 1862, give me a break, said Eller. It's funny! We're doing that today, right?

In the narrow office/music room at his home outside Nampa, Eller records some of his discoveries. He enlists the help of musician friends for others.

He produces CDs that come with informational booklets he writes explaining the songs. He has placed these in major university libraries and the Library of Congress.

Somebody in Australia now will be able to find these songs because they've been indexed and put on the internet.

And he's always looking for more of these gems that he believes are tucked away in nooks and crannies all over the gem state.

In people's attics, in old family newspapers, perhaps handwritten lyrics from great, great, great grandmother Martha, said Eller.

Eller's passion to preserve these songs is driven by his love for them, but also by his fear that these priceless pieces of Idaho culture and history will disappear.

There's no guarantee it's going to be around tomorrow.

His work guarantees that at least 200 of them will be around tomorrow.

If you would like to listen to the old songs, or if you think you have an old musical gem that Gary Eller might be interested in preserving, you can check out the Idaho Songs Project website. You will find the songs and his contact information there.

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