© Paul Markow
In 1878, at the request of Brigham Young, William Jordan Flake settled the town that now bears his name. More than 100 years later, Flake's great-grandson — lawman, rancher, musician, artist and raconteur "Sank" Flake — is one of Snowflake's most colorful characters.
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By Kathy Montgomery
Snowflake Sanford "Sank" Flake couldn't escape his past if he wanted to. His town's history can't be separated from that of his family, and folks here know it well. How Brigham Young sent Flake's great-grandfather William Jordan Flake from Utah to settle the town in 1878. And how the town came to be called Snowflake by combining Flake's name with that of Mormon apostle Erastus Snow. These events are celebrated every July during Pioneer Days.
Snowflake is still chock-full of Flakes, and Sank's neighborhood forms a kind of architectural family tree. Across the street stands the house where Sank was born. The imposing brick Victorian just down from it belonged to his grandfather, James Madison Flake. It's now a museum.
But Sank doesn't seem eager to escape his past. His home is a kind of monument to his own history. In addition to a long career in law enforcement and ranching, Sank has pursued many interests. An amateur painter and musician, he honed a talent for carving elaborate walking sticks while on a mission in New Zealand. He rode with the Pony Express and served as wrangler for a half-dozen professional trail rides. Roy Rogers and Rex Allen became his friends. Family pets have included a deer, a bobcat and a 26-year-old paint horse named Denver, which Sank has ridden from border to border and coast to coast.
Mementos from all these exploits fill his home. When the house could no longer contain them all, he built a two-story barn that serves as a private museum.
At 78, Sank's hearing isn't what it used to be, a fact he attributes to years of pistol fire. But he retains a full head of silver hair, unruly eyebrows and an engaging smile. On a summer day, he greeted guests wearing a bola tie, turquoise bracelet and cowboy boots. His wife, Louise, stood nearby to shout the questions he couldn't hear, even with a hearing aid. But Sank needed few prompts. Stories poured from him like water from a spring.
Louise played straight man and kept him honest. "Oh, Sanford," she clucked as Sank recounted a time he was so upset it took four men to hold him down.
"It wasn't that bad," she said. "He exaggerates."
Many of the stories would, indeed, seem incredible if not for the evidence. In the living room hangs a photo of Louise with her arm around the pet deer. Through the miracle of taxidermy, the pet bobcat stretches forever upon a tree limb in a room filled with hunting trophies that include moose, caribou and Dall sheep from hunting trips to Alaska.
Sank points to a painting of his and says: "See that? Isn't that pretty? That's where we're going to retire."
"Where is that?" a guest asks.
"I don't know," he answers.
The barn out back displays racks of beaver-skin costumes; several pairs of cowboy boots that were gifts from bootmaker John Justin; a collection of cowboy hats and beaver-skin caps; a Pony Express uniform; a bed lined from edge to edge with coyote pelts; three life-sized replicas of Sank's horses; a full-sized wagon; Native American rugs and jewelry; a player piano; hunting trophies that include mountain lions, wolves, grizzlies and black bears; and a mounted, stuffed toy tiger. There is a full commercial kitchen with a grill that accommodates "more steaks than I can afford," as Sank puts it, and a sign that reads: "Some of my best friends are Flakes."
Though it's July, the house and barn are decorated for Christmas, with garlands, chile-pepper lights and a full-sized Christmas tree.
"I think you notice we decorate for Christmas all year," Louise says. "He likes to decorate, but he doesn't like to take it down."
Sanford and Louise met when they were cast in a romantic play opposite each other. They were both 22. "It was a love story," Louise explains. She was working as a high-school teacher to save money to go on a mission but never made it.
"My mission became him," she says.
Together they raised four children. For a while they owned a ranch in Peeples Valley. Sank took a job with the Phoenix Police Department before being recruited as Snowflake town marshal. When the department expanded, he became police chief and remained on the job for 30 years.
A cowboy at heart, Sank retired in 1991 to devote his time to raising the overo paint horses that follow him around like puppies.
"They like me," he explains.
Louise retired from teaching after 30 years. An excellent seamstress, she sewed the buckskin outfits her husband liked and followed him in a horse trailer as he rode across the country.
"When he decided to go, we went," she says matter-of-factly.
Their fondness for each other is evident.
Sanford calls Louise a star.
"To me that's what she is," he says. "She doesn't do anything that isn't first class. How she ended up with me, I'll never know."
Louise calls Sank a man of integrity. "Sanford has been fun to live with," she says.
But that's plain to see.
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