A Family Chronicle
|By Morton A. Johnson|
|Sketches by Alan M. Johnson|
Kindred, North Dakota, must go undescribed by me in any detail at least, until I have seen it again. What memories I still have are subliminal images of a tiny town. I was brash enough to sketch a rough map a few years ago for Alan, who wanted to visit it as he was on his way to or from another destination. He generously said that it enabled him to believe that he identified our house a short distance down the street from a small church. The street led out into the country and went by the cemetery.
I recall the church vividly because we went there for the community Christmas Eve festivities. There was an enormous tree, wonderfully decorated and lighted with burning candles. Each child received a gift.
Drawing on one's childhood memory is an inaccurate process. We have all surely had the opportunity to check the accuracy of memory when it comes to the size of an old home or yard or garden. A visit many years later is disillusioning. Therefore, please remember this when I hazard an estimate of the size of something or the distances involved in a description.
The memory upon which I will draw for the forthcoming pages of reminiscing consists of a hodgepodge of impressions and incidents. I hope the rambling nature of this brief chronicle is not too confusing. Many of the events happened more than sixty-five years ago. It is told in the first person, for which please excuse.
I recall faintly two early punishments resulting from my breaking the rules. I took advantage of the absence of Mother and Dad and picked an apple from the tree in the backyard. The discipline was the classic paddling. Also, in spite of Mother's standing order never to get into a boat I failed to resist such an opportunity. The Sheyenne River meandered its way around Kindred, a few miles away. I was taken there once by Dad when he and several men went swimming. The splashing and their apparent enjoyment of it still remains clear because water, in such proportions, was totally unknown. This fascination made me an easy mark for the next temptation to appear when I was taken to the river by someone (person unknown) who took me for a boatride.
One other deeply engraved memory involved the time I fell on the steps of the front porch and cut the skin on the bridge of my nose between the eyebrows. The quick trip to the doctor's office and the painful process of having the wound stitched still lingers in those early Kindred shadowy memories. I remember being able to go back later to follow my tracks (blood stains) on the sidewalk.
Dad had always been a baseball enthusiast, to put it lightly. He played first base on the Kindred team and I recall our frequent visits to the ballpark on the other side of the railroad tracks.
The name of the company for which Dad worked in Kindred has been erased from my mind but he was manager of the small lumber yard and it was this same work he stayed with in Buchanan and Oakesdale.
Our house had two floors. Part of the time the upstairs was rented to the dentist and his wife. However, this was not permanent because I recall a room upstairs in which was my favorite toy - a rocking - horse called Dan Patch, after a then-famous harness racer whose name is still legend. I remember the great pleasure I got from riding Dan Patch. The kitchen had a small manual pump, either from a cistern or a well. Cisterns were common here and later in Canada because things were very primitive. We never had a basement in any house we lived in up through the time I left home. I suppose, if we had been able to afford it, there would have been the problem of adequately insulating the plumbing during the extremely cold winters. I faintly recall the phonograph which played cylindrical records through a flairing horn. This was the same as the long, long running advertisement for phonographs in which the little dog sat in rapt attention with the caption, "His Master's Voice". I seem to recall a wall telephone but there is no incident connected with it.
I started to school in September, 1910. I remember very little of it except for the pungent odor of the oiled floors and also how good freshly sharpened pencils smelled.
I recall quite clearly the night Aunt Ida Bentley knocked on our door, very late. She was one of Mother's sisters who, with Harlow Bentley, lived on a cattle ranch in extreme western North Dakota. She bore news that a large area around their part of the country was going to be opened for homesteading. This meant that a citizen could “file a claim" on a quarter of a section of land. After living on the land for fourteen months and having made improvements of not less than a prescribed value, he could gain possession by a process called "proving up". This, perhaps, means that he must have certified to having made the improvements and having met the time requirements of the homestead law.
I don't recall the travail that must have taken place in making the momentous decision but we ended by having an enormous auction in our front yard to dispose of the household goods, except for the small quantity which we took with us. I still remember the grief I felt when Dan Patch went under the auctioneer's hammer. I do not remember the name of the place where we left the train after traveling across the state and switched to a wagon, drawn by a team of horses which Dad had hired, along with the driver. Roger was a baby in Mother's arms. My dog, Timmy, was taken along to my great joy.
Except for staying overnight at a house out on the prairie, I have little memory of the two day trip across the rolling country, The driver obviously knew where he was going but there were no roads. We stopped late in the day at a house where we were put up as travelers were in those times and in that country. The next morning we participated in an exciting Easter Egg Hunt so it must have been Easter Sunday, 1911.
The Bentleys were living in a log cabin where we were eventually to live. In the meantime, perhaps while the Bentleys were preparing another house, Dad got some lumber, presumably by driving back the many miles to some outpost of civilization, and built a tiny one-room shack, which we always referred to as the shack. It was built a short distance from the log house and we occupied it during the heat of the summer, which was an ordeal for everyone. There was little or no shade. I believe we stayed with the Bentleys in the log cabin until the shack was ready for us.
The geography of the place was interesting to me and I will try to describe it. The principal landmark was a large creek, which I believe flowed the year around. It curved in an S shape with our cabin quite close to the edge of the high bank which diverted the creek as it turned abruptly behind the cabin. I never saw the spelling of the creek's name but it must have been an Anglicized version of something that sounded like Benny Peer, or Pierre. This stream flooded in the spring with the runoff of the winter snow and when it flooded it was an impressive sight. I'm afraid I would expect to find now that the high bank behind the cabin has eroded badly and quite possibly the cabin has disappeared.
The cabin sat on a level area free of any growing thing except grass. If one stood with his back toward the front of the cabin he would have seen, sharply to the left, a slight drop to another level space which was overgrown with brush and undergrowth. I'm reasonably sure that it had once been a part of the stream and during extreme flooding conditions might again become a part of the stream. Slightly in front of the cabin and to the left on the same level was an abandoned stone masonry foundation two or three feet high, suitable for a fairly sizeable house. We knew nothing about this masonry work except that it was fun to run around on top of its walls which were about fifteen inches wide. We never knew whether it represented a proposed new structure which never was finished, or if it was the remains of a long past fire. I doubt the latter because there would have been ruins or charred lumber and I believe everything was neat and clean around the foundation.
Straight ahead of the cabin at a distance of a hundred yards was a rough road which went along what was undoubtedly a valley between the buttes. This led to the school, which was built by the parents of the few school-aged children. I recall attending this primitive one room school for a short time. All the pupils studied, except when they recited before the teacher, grade by grade. I was the only pupil in my age group. I remember that some of the older pupils rode horses and tied them to a hitching rail outside. It must have been during a mild period in the weather cycle when we attended school because the winters were too severe to have left animals outside, or for us to have been able to endure the low temperatures inside of the lightly constructed shell of a building, heated only by a small stove.
Back to the cabin as a point of reference. To the right of the roadway was a spring of cold water. A small wooden shelter built around and over it provided a cooler where milk and butter were kept during the warm weather. Near the spring was an exposed vein of soft coal which we must have used for fuel because there was very little wood available. Next in the arc encircling the cabin was the butte, a rounded hill that may have been several hundred feet above us in elevation. These buttes were common and served as the only break in an otherwise slightly undulating landscape.
I don't believe that we ever climbed the butte. The fear of rattlesnakes was drilled into us constantly. We were warned never to reach into any place where we could not see, never to walk close to anything which could harbor a snake, such as clumps of grass or hay. One day, on our way to school, three or four of us were walking down the road. As we passed a small mound of hay, which had probably fallen off a wagon, we heard the ominous and distinctive buzzing of a rattler. We scattered and returned cautiously with rocks, sticks, and a fence post which we threw at the snake. Eventually there was a fair sized amount of debris under which was a dead rattler. The fear grew into an obsession and included a feeling of obligation to destroy the menace. It was quite the sporting thing for men to wear a detached set of rattles fastened to their hatbands. The larger and more rattles the better. We were told that the number of rattles on each snake indicated its age.
One of the most memorable and chilling experiences happened in the kitchen of the cabin. The spaces between the logs were chinked with mud. One evening Mother was busy getting supper ready and the three of us young ones were with her. She suddenly stopped her activities and hastily rounded us up into the other room. Dad took his little single shot Savage 22 caliber rifle and shot the head off of a rattlesnake. It had crawled into the house through a hole in the mud chinking and was lying on the floor between two storage bins. Mother had opened the lid of one of the bins to get some flour when she heard the rattler sound off. It had ten rattles which was an average sized snake.
Another vivid, but brief memory, involved a bull snake which was sunning itself out in front of the log cabin near the site of the shack. Of course, as I now visualize it, this snake achieves the proportions of a python or an anaconda. It hissed in a threatening way. Dad killed it with a long pole and pushed it over the bank. Later we learned that these snakes were non-venomous and killed rattlers.
The cabin was an interesting home. The logs must have been difficult to find because they were good sized, perhaps ten inches in diameter. Such trees were not common in that area. The floor was dirt, packed very hard and smooth. The roof was peaked to a ridgepole and made from planks about ten or twelve inches wide. Tar paper on top of these covered the cracks and this in turn was covered by a layer of three or four inches of dirt from which grew each year another crop of grass. The sod formed this way served to prevent the dirt from washing away. The wall between the kitchen and living-dining-bedroom served as a bearing wall for the ridgepole. The only door and windows were in the main room. There must have been some smaller window in the kitchen but I only recall the large, low windows across the front of the house. Those low windows were the cause of some acute anxiety during a blizzard when the leeside of the cabin happened to be the window side and a herd of long horned cattle huddled against the cabin for shelter. The scraping of those long horns against the logs and the frail glass of the windows was ominous.
That primitive roof was remarkably successful as an insulator both in the intensely cold winters, holding in the heat, and during the extremely hot summers, when the interior stayed reasonably comfortable. I remember seeing one type of sod house along the road to school. The builder started with a small excavation into the steep base of a butte. The walls of this excavation served as parts of the rear and side walls of the house. The remainder of the rear and side walls were made by sections of sod built up as if they were bricks. A small window or two, a rough door and simple roof, something like the one in our cabin, completed the small, dark but reputedly warm shelter.
To the extreme right of the front of our cabin was a small, nondescript barn where our cow was sheltered. Behind the barn was a genuine corral such as I have seen in countless western moving pictures. Poles, five or six inches in diameter, were set in deep post holes and stood above ground about the height of a man's head. These were the supports for a series of smaller poles horizontal to the ground at intervals of a foot or more apart. One section consisted of the gate through which the critters could be driven. This structure was strong enough to hold horses or cattle and upon which it was great fun to climb and sit watching the activities that went on during the round up or the breaking-in of horses.
There was one real roundup. The cattle had been herded off the open range where they had wintered. This meant that the cattle of several ranchers were mixed and if the calves were not branded before they were weaned their identities were lost since they were branded with the same brand as their mothers from whom they were nearly inseparable. They were roped and thrown to the ground where several men restrained each animal while the red hot brand was briefly pressed against the flank and, depending on the sex, castrated. The pungency of the burning still seems strong.
Still farther to the right of the observer, with his back to the front of the cabin was our vegetable garden, surrounded by a barbed wire fence to keep out cattle. The garden, I am sure, produced much of our food. The reason I so vividly remember the garden was that we found a remarkably large number of arrowheads in the soil. Apparently, in the past, it had been the campsite of Indians, probably because of the creek. I recall that when we left the claim I had collected a ten pound salt sack full of beautiful arrowheads in many sizes and colors. As we moved about the country and the continent I regret that I was so generous as to dole them out to my friends and now there are no more arrowheads.
Somewhere Dad acquired a big coat, or perhaps it was a robe, of buffalo hide. It was very rough and shaggy, probably quite old, a genuine relic. It was abandoned somewhere along the route of our various moves.
I mentioned earlier that Timmy went with us to the claim. To me he was the only dog I loved until Smokey came along several decades later. Timmy was a rat terrier (if there is such a breed). He was small, with short white hair and brown and white spots. He could not adjust to the many new and exciting things which abounded upon and around the claim. He seemed unable to resist the opportunity to tangle with a porcupine or a skunk. I was impressed with his good judgment after his first encounter with a skunk. He was sternly refused admittance to the cabin so he went out and dug himself a small pit in the dusty soil and buried himself and this apparently freed him of the overpowering odor.
He met his Nemesis in the porcupine. When he first came in with quills bristling from his muzzle, ears and chest, Dad rigged up a harness out of an old halter. With this as a restraint, he patiently and painfully extracted as many of the quills as he could with a pair of pliers. Those he was unable to remove or which broke off continued to plague the poor animal terribly. However, this did not deter him from taking on any porcupine that came along. After the third time, with a whole new crop of quills on top of the painfully mounting problem of the old quills working their way through his body, Dad silently took him away and exterminated the poor dog. Dad came to me quietly, sympathetically, and told me what he had had to do and promised another dog. I never found one that could replace Timmy while I was young.
The claim was about sixty miles from wherever Dad went to get supplies. The trip took several days. Basic supplies, such as flour, were brought in quantities sufficient to last for a month or more. On one of these trips some kerosene was spilled on several sacks of flour. This gave the flour and its products a most unique flavor and aroma. We must have lived with this odor and taste for a long time because I can still recognize it when I smell certain combinations of kerosene. On one of our subsequent moves, probably from the post-claim-visit-to-Kindred and on to Buchanan, we were given some home-made candy packed in a soap box. That soapy flavor lasted a lot longer than the train trip to Buchanan.
Our nearest neighbors, the Frenches, lived about two miles away in the opposite direction from the school. We walked over there occasionally and one of the features of this was crossing the creek by means of a bridge consisting of a single log of fairly good diameter. Eventually a rough handline was provided by tying a light rope between several uprights that were nailed to the side of the log. The creek was probably only a few feet wide at this point but my childish memory makes it seem very daring and risky.
Dad's return from trips for supplies was always occasion for great expectation, especially on the day before Christmas. In my case I received as my major gift a popgun. This was a contrivance which one pumped up and stuffed a cork into the end of the muzzle. The cork was fastened to the gun by means of a string, thus enabling the user to retrieve the cork and, incidentally, spare the eyes of nearby people. It made a good noise and I was jubilant with it. It happened that only moments after I received this gift we heard a wolf howl in the distance as someone opened the door to bring in an armload of supplies from the wagon. I distinctly remember how daring I thought I was to go to the open door and fire my popgun at the wolf. Coyotes were common although one did not see them often. They howled almost every night. These serenades came from nearby buttes. I suppose they were a menace to calves and lambs but that was of little importance to us.
One of the greatest problems of living in that area was the absence of potable water. All water was so "hard" that it was necessary for Mother to operate a small distilling machine which provided us with drinking water and, I suppose, the water she used in cooking. The preponderant mineral was alkali and, I guess, was heavy enough in concentration to have made it unwise for us to drink it.
What Mother and Dad did for their cash flow I wonder about now. I remember that occasionally Dad did work for someone for income but it must have been a rigorous period for both of them. I recall that he planted a small acreage in flax but I have no memory of how it was threshed or disposed of. I only recall how beautifully blue the field was when it was in bloom. It could easily have deluded someone from a distance into thinking that it was a small lake.
Late one afternoon, while Dad was away presumably on one of his work periods, a man came to the door and when Mother opened it he said, "Have you got anything for a poor and tired man?" He wore a beard and Mother had no idea who he was until he identified himself as Uncle Adolph who, as a free and restless bachelor, had come all that way for a visit. How he had traveled I have no idea. He did this same thing several times later as we all probably remember. Such a happening was quite an exciting thing in our quiet and eventless lives. Except for Dad none of us saw an automobile or train during the entire fourteen months. I don't know what the folks realized from the sale of the 160 acres but I am positive that it was too little for the ordeal they went through. For several years after we left the claim they continued to receive an annual pittance as rental for grazing rights from the Frenches. The taxes were not high but when Dad finally got a firm offer, while we were in Oakesdale or maybe in Tacoma (I believe), he apparently jumped at the chance to unload it.
It is interesting to ponder what might have been different if he had held on a few years longer until the prospects of oil were discovered in the Williston Basin. Whether our claim was in the Williston Basin or not, it would surely have made a huge difference in the sale price of the claim. I have often wondered over the significance of that coal vein at the surface near the spring. It was definitely soft coal, lignite and was quite common in that area.
Another shadowy memory that looms into faint recall from so far back in time was the result of our isolation on the claim. Dad reported the sinking of the Titanic after one of his trips for supplies. The tragic event took place April 14-15, 1912, and we learned about it possibly within a month of that date. The smallness of man trying to cope with such forces as the Atlantic Ocean and its icebergs overwhelmed one seven year old boy enough to make him resolve never to cross the ocean.
The Bentleys had one child, a daughter about twelve or fourteen years of age, whose name was Tola (the spelling is phonetical). She seemed to be much older than I because she was so self-sufficient. She rode her horse almost constantly and apparently went wherever she wanted to go. Several times I was taken for rides across the prairie. I rode behind the saddle and enjoyed this exotic opportunity to travel about to places more earthbound people would not see. I enjoyed watching for the cactus in bloom and was amazed and delighted by the delicate but distinctive aroma of its flowers. My nose must have been much more sensitive then because the sage was spicy and strong and I especially remember the unusual fragrance of the native cedar. It was good for carving and whittling because it was so soft and easy to work with. Its fragrance was quite pungent. Its grain was a beautiful red against a creamy white background. Somehow I was given a miniature saddle, quite authentic but simply smaller than those used by grownups. I never used it and we took it with us to Canada. Apparently it was disposed of before we returned to the States.
On one of the rides with Tola we were on the far side of the creek and as the horse took the steep trail down the bank to the creek it dug its hooves into the loose dirt of the trail and I slipped off about half way down the bank. I landed on my hands and knees beside the trail, having run a stiff branch of a sage bush into the roof of my mouth. I bled freely but had no after effects except that I can still feel the scar on the roof of my mouth with my tongue. I was lucky to have gotten by so easily as I could have lost an eye or the sharp woody stalk might have punctured the jugular vein.
We would often come upon prairie dog towns. They are gregarious creatures and always live in groups. They cooperate in an effective warning system for the approach of possible danger. They also have a very pronounced sense of curiosity and would keep peeking over the tops of their mounds to see what they could see. While we were at some distance we could see several of them running about from mound to mound. There were always several of them standing guard at the highest spot on the mounds. They had an extensive tunnel system and each burrow had more than one escape outlet. Their holes were dangerous for horses or stampeding cattle.
The monotony of our diet was not apparent to me then but I recall what lengths Mother and Dad went to provide variety. Meat was fairly common. Fresh beef was quite regularly available and I recall occasions when someone would drop by with a roast that was jokingly called mutton. I am sure it was out-of-season antelope which were fairly common thereabouts then. One day we drove across the prairie several miles to a small grove of trees and picked some delicious wild plums. We picnicked in the shade of the trees and thought this was quite and occasion. The fresh fruit tasted wonderful as I am sure did the canned fruit which Mother preserved. I suppose Dad brought us a few I oranges but somehow I have oranges associated with train trips during which a uniformed person went up and down the aisles with big trays of fruit and candies and this is about all the fruit I remember except for our Christmas stockings.
A pig was raised and butchered after cold weather set in. I was fascinated with the process of making sausage. Mother sewed the long containers from flour sacks and then stuffed them with the ground-up pork and all those appetizing spices. These were put where they would freeze and stay in good condition throughout the cold season. The sausage was sliced, the meat fried and it was a favorite of everyone.
The highlight of our one winter was the blizzard. Details are forgotten except that it was awesome to hear the wind blow so ferociously and of course I can't forget the eerie sounds of huddling cattle bumping their horns against walls and windows in their efforts to find shelter from the cruelty of the cold and wind. I forget whether the danger of losing one's bearings in such a short distance between the house and barn came from a story or from warnings we received during our blizzard. Life out-of-doors was unthinkable during such times. The snow drifted in the most unexpected ways and places and one did not travel until the drifts were either melted or cut through. There were few roads. In fact I recall only the road leading to the school but there must have been some commonly used track or ungraded roadway in the other direction.
In front of our house in Kindred, almost across the street, there was a snowdrift built up high enough and firmly enough packed so that many of us youngsters coasted down it for several days which was a treat because hills were non-existent in that country.
There was an aromatic pungency about most growing things. I may be wrong but I have attributed this to the fact that there was an intense pressure placed on plants that were able to grow and adjust to the extremes of climatic conditions that prevailed during summers and winters. The cactus acquired the quality of intense fragrance in order to survive. Perhaps this represents the survival of the fittest. The fragrance of sage has already been mentioned as well as that of cedar. Perhaps for cedar there may have been a favorable combination of minerals or foods in the soil which resulted in the characteristic fragrance where the tree was exposed to long, hot days.
Magpies were my best remembered birds although we had meadow larks, ravens and prairie chickens. The magpies were striking in appearance and were aggressive somewhat like our Canadian Jays or camp robbers.
I can imagine the anticipation Mother and Dad must have felt as they watched the calendar for the end of the ordeal of fourteen months of that harsh living in frontier conditions. We did not stay on the claim any longer than the required fourteen months. The only vivid memory of our leaving was the crossing of the Missouri River on our way to the railroad which was to take us back to Kindred briefly.
It was late, after dark, as we approached the river across which we were to be ferried and as we came in sight of the landing there was the ferry well out into the river on its way to the other side on its last trip for that day. Dad located someone who was willing to take us across in a rowboat. What arrangements were worked out for the team and wagon which brought us from the claim, how much luggage we had to take along with us, is all lost so far as my memory is concerned.
I will probably have reason to refer back to the claim period again but before I leave it for the rest of the tale I feel impelled to observe that what we had been through was truly a frontier experience and the fact that we all came through it unscathed speaks well for the fortitude of Mother and Dad. They endured hardships that I could not have found the strength to have gone through. I have never truly appreciated what they did until I reviewed those days while writing the past few pages.
I believe Dad must have used Kindred as a staging point for his next job hunt and he left us there with his relatives until he had gone on ahead to Buchanan, Saskatchewan, to scout and find some place for us to live. I remember one experience that was a nightmare for me. Apparently his brother or sister, I forget which, who housed us had several children and their house must have been small because I had to sleep in bed with four other children. Two of us slept with our heads down at the foot and three had their heads up where they should be and two of them slept on the outside while I was one of those who drew the foot and slept jammed between two others. I'm sure they slept better than I did because they seemed accustomed to it. It was a bed which folded up into a cabinet by means of springs when it was emptied and remade. I recall having some reservations about the possibility of those powerful looking springs closing the bed during the night.
Part of Dad's agreement with his new employer in Buchanan must have been for the company to pay for construction of a new house for the new man who was to operate their lumber yard because the house was under construction when we arrived. We lived for several weeks in a little hotel near the railroad tracks.
So far as comfort was concerned our standard of living was pretty low in Buchanan, as well as on the claim. Possibly it was typical of general conditions prevailing in pre-World War I days but things were primitive.
In our house the kitchen, dining room and front room occupied three quarters of the first floor with the fourth quarter of space utilized by a small hallway and stairway up to the two bedrooms. We all slept in one room while the other room was rented part of the time by two high school boys whose homes were too far away for them to commute.
There was no basement or cellar. There was no plumbing, and that ladies and gentlemen, was an item in a climate ranging from the minus fifties up to zero for a month or more! I recall that we were not allowed outside during one cold spell that was a reported -55 degrees. When the cold snap began to relent and temperatures rose to zero or higher, the men began to venture out of doors without their heavier clothing. Spring was on the way!
We seemed to have found another home in a hostile environment. There was no water except that which drained from the roof to the cistern. I forget how this was brought to the kitchen but probably not by pumps or pipes because of the hazard of freezing up. During the winter our water was delivered in the form of large chunks of ice which sat out in the backyard. Chunks were chopped off and brought into the kitchen where they were thawed on the range. We used snow when it was clean. Fuel for the range was coal and wood. The heater, a large upright cast iron affair with isinglass windows in the doors used coal because it had to be kept burning twenty-four hours a day. The coal and wood were dumped in the backyard. The wood was long, slender poles as trees of any size didn't grow in that area. These poles had to be chopped up into usable lengths with an ax. The big heater was in the front room near the stairway so that some of the heat could go upstairs. There were small heaters in the bedrooms to temper the chill.
Light was provided by kerosene lamps. On our way up to Buchanan we stopped overnight in a Winnipeg [sic] hotel because of train connections and it was there we saw our first electric lights and our first flush toilet. This was a fear-inspiring device that frightened several of us. We had our first electricity in our home in Oakesdale and our first flush toilet in Tacoma in 1918.
My introduction to some of the differences to be found in a new country came when I was sent to the store for crackers. The attendant did not know what I wanted. Eventually I learned that they were called biscuits.
A large proportion of the people around Buchanan, particularly the farmers, were Russians. There was some distinction made between the Dukhobors and the Galicians. The first were basically a religious group who rejected external authority because of their beliefs. The others came from the province of Galicia, an area north of the Caucasian Mountains. I never heard about any of the civil disturbances carried out by the Dukhobors as in British Columbia.
The climate in the summer was uncomfortably warm and humid with swarms of mosquitoes and insect pests. It was far enough north so that trees did not amount to much and the unsettled country was appropriately called "the bush".
There were innumerable small, swampy ponds dotting the landscape. This probably explained the mosquito plague. These same ponds were probably the source of our winter water supply, providing big slabs of ice about thirty inches thick. I believe Brother used water from the cistern when it was available during warmer weather. I don't remember where our water came from other than these two sources.
The beasts of burden were almost exclusively oxen because it was simply too cold for horses. The roads were at their best during the winter and traffic was entirely big bobsleds in which farmers hauled their sacked wheat to market. The sleds had four runners. Each runner was clad with a three inch wide steel shoe about half an inch thick. The body of the sled was a rectangular box five or six feet wide and perhaps twelve feet long, with a seat up front for the driver consisting of a wooden bench fastened to the bottom of the sled and covered by some rough sort of cushioning material. These seats may have had a simple backrest. The farmers, usually Russians, would haul their sacked wheat to elevators in town on those bobsleds during the winter because the roads were virtually solid ice from the time soon after the first snowfall until late in April or I-lay. They were still passable long after the snow was gone in other places. The heavily loaded sleds were pulled by two oxen moving slowly and deliberately, swaying gently from side to side as they walked, often with small icicles hanging from their noses. One of our favorite winter sports was to hook our sled ropes to the rear end of the bobsleds and ride out into the country until we met another team going back to town and ride back with it, all at the probable speed of two or three miles an hour.
During the winter we enjoyed skating on any of the nearby ponds which were safely frozen over very quickly after winter started. The ice was at least thirty inches thick. On one pond we would keep the surface clear for a rough game like hockey. On another, the snow would be cleared away so that a-large circle was crisscrossed by several spokelike pathways all meeting at a large center intersection. This enabled us to play various games of touch tag. Usually there would be a large fire on the shore where we could warm our hands and feet. People were trained to watch for signs of frostbite on the cheeks and noses of others. It was not uncommon for people to lose fingers, toes, ears and noses from overexposure to the low temperatures. We youngsters were not allowed to venture out-of-doors during colder spells (forty degrees or more below) and school was closed at some point, perhaps in the sub-forty temperatures. During winter school hours were changed because of darkness. Classes started later than usual and dismissed earlier. Without adequate illumination the classroom was not light enough until midmorning.
I learned how to trap muskrats in the early winter before things froze so hard that I couldn't break into the muskrat houses. These were smaller than beaver houses and made of cattail stalks. I had a few steel traps and probably caught fewer than a half dozen muskrats which I had to skin and stretch on shingles, fur side in. The shingle was carved so that one end was smaller in order for it to be inserted into the skin, which was stripped off the carcass from the tail end up to the head. After scraping the inside, the furs were dried. The going price for a good muskrat skin was thirty-five cents. I wonder what they would bring now.
Living in a climate such as we endured in Buchanan required some adjustment and skill. The fire in the pot-bellied stove, once it was started in the late fall, burned twenty-four hours a day. Crayons used to make an interesting odor when pressed against the hot isinglass windows in the door. Mother battled the elements regularly when she hung out laundry to dry. She probably was adequately dressed when she ventured outside in temperatures fifteen or twenty degrees below zero. The wet clothing was as warm as possible and it was a race to get the articles on the line before they froze to the stiffness of a board. One could pour out a bucket of warm water and it would freeze as it hit the ground and would solidify into a mound of ice before it could drain away.
Drivers of bobsleds didn't get much exercise although they could have gotten out and walked beside the sleds. They bundled up in big sheepskin coats, blankets around their legs, which were probably already encased in layers of clothing, multiple thick socks and loose boots. They usually had high fur collars on their outside coats which would be fastened up so they had only a small vertical space through which to see and breathe. These collars and their beards were rimed with hoarfrost and ice from their breath. The slow and lumbering oxen would hang their swaying heads as they pulled. It was a common sight to see small icicles hanging from their noses.
We wore mittens for more than one reason. Gloves, with individual finger spaces were inadequate against frostbite. The mittens also prevented one from becoming forgetful and grabbing metal with a bare hand. The moisture in one's skin would freeze upon contact with metal out of doors and skin would be lost in setting out of such situations. Frequently my wet mittens would freeze to the doorknobs and would require special efforts to be freed. I heard of a dog which was so unfortunate as to lick a rail on the railroad track and lost part of his tongue. The glass windows carried a permanent coating of crystallized frost during the winter which badly obscured visibility. A practical and common practice was to bank the skirting around the lower part of the houses with manure to cut down on heat loss through floors.
Shortly after we arrived in Buchanan I was invited to go on a train trip to a nearby small town called Rama to pick wild strawberries. I had a most unexpected and traumatic experience. After rigid conditioning on the claim of never exposing my hands or feet to any hiding place where a rattlesnake could be lurking I was forced to overcome this revulsion of parting the long grass with my hands in order to see the small, red berries clustered down close to the ground. I did not bring home many berries. Several years later I discovered why - I was color blind.
I rode in my first automobile in Buchanan. I had seen one of the newfangled buggies in Kindred but never got beyond the spectator stage until I was taken for a ride in a Ford.
I recall little of my school experience in Buchanan. They must have been building a new brick building when we arrived. I first went to class in what was a temporary location near the small center of town. Somewhere along the line we moved into a new larger brick building, housing more grades - perhaps the high school. I've never been able to figure out my grade status during those years of frequent moving about. I didn’t quite finish the first grade in Kindred before we left for the claim. I attended school, for what seemed only a short period at the claim, during the year 1911-1912. We lived in Buchanan about eighteen months, from the summer of 1912 until April or May of 1914. I remember finishing the third grade because my first full uninterrupted year was the fourth grade in Oakesdale.
Discipline was strict and stern in the Canadian school that I attended. I believe we had more than one grade to each room. My first teacher, Mr. Livingstone, was a lame, red-haired Scot. He was an intense, lean-cheeked man whose jaw muscles rippled menacingly under his skin. His eyes would seem to bore through one's head as he listened to recitations. He would absentmindedly chew chalk as he was performing his pedagogical duties. I remember that we studied English and Canadian history from the British and Canadian viewpoint. Later, south-of the border, our history put less stress on the battles with the French over Quebec and Montreal. I believe we received a slightly chauvinistic viewpoint of the War of 1812 but I don't feel that it was unfair.
I had several friends my own age who came from Russian homes. They spoke English as well as any of us. It was fascinating to be invited to their homes for dinner. The parents spoke their native Russian language and I got to the point where I could almost follow a conversation. I never felt capable of speaking even the simplest bit of Russian and the only phrase I can now remember is "Shaky" which meant to "clear the track" or "lookout". The last syllable was pronounced to rhyme with high and the accent was on the last syllable.
One of their old country ways was their use of sunflower seeds. These were raised in surprising quantities. I have seen a storeroom in a home in which I am sure there were at least fifty grain sacks filled with dry sunflower seeds. These were roasted in small quantities as they were used. The Russians were great at congregating at their homes in small groups on Sundays and holidays. Frequently, when the weather was mild, they met downtown at what passed for the corner drug store. In preparation for these social occasions each person would come with a small flour sack bulging with roasted sunflower seeds hooked under his belt. These were expertly tossed in the mouth with almost constant motion, instantaneously manipulated with the tongue, cracked open by the teeth, the kernel extracted by the tongue and the shell expelled from the lips. After several of these deft operations there would be a slight pause while accumulated kernels were chewed up. As a result the sidewalks and the around would be littered with a surprising depth of empty hulls which blew in the wind.
The women did this as frequently as the men but they usually carried on their socializing in groups of their own sex and at their homes. The standard garb for women was a shawl over the shoulders, a billowing skirt of some bright design that seemed to be common to their native country. They always wore kerchiefs over their heads.
It was in Canada that I saw my first crude moving pictures. I believe it had to do with a parade or celebration in England which was still news and we were impressed by it. This showing took place in a church.
Another random Buchanan memory was a dinner at the home of one of my Russian friends. The meal was almost entirely served from a large bowl of steaming, small, tapioca-like, reddish or ruddy balls which turned out to be fish roe. It didn't seem to bother me because I remember eating more of it after learning what it was.
Further recollections bear out my observations that life must have been harsh back fifty or sixty years ago. One such incident occurred in Kindred when I went with Mother to the local dentist to have her teeth extracted. This was done in a single session with little or no anesthetic. I can still hear the sound of the dentist flipping extracted teeth onto the congoleum type floor covering. They rattled along the floor and ended up banging noisily against the baseboard on the other side of the room. She was a true Spartan when it came to pain.
Two other incidents occurred in Buchanan which left deep impressions on my memory of the times and place. The local jail was a tiny brick building, perhaps ten by twenty feet. The window was barred and the door was padlocked. I remember one time being near enough to hear two inmates singing in drunken fashion the melody of the hymn "Bringing In The Sheaves" but the words they were using were "Bringing In The Thieves".
My first encounter with death of a human being was when I was taken by a friend down a grimy, dark, narrow hallway of a small hotel or rooming house. We tiptoed up to an open door and peered in to see a dead man. He was half out of the bed - his head, shoulders and arms were spraw1ing on the floor. There was no other person around. I have since wondered many times about the unknown story of the poor fellow and what led up to that sad finish.
We left Buchanan for Oakesdale sometime in the spring of 1914. It was in Oakesdale where I first began reading about the terrible war in Europe. No one could tell me what caused the fighting.
As we were planning the move to the Pacific Northwest I can remember the thrill of the prospect of living where fruit grew. There was nothing like that in Buchanan or on the claim, except for the wild plums we had traveled several miles to pick. I also recall that upon our return to the States, by train of course, we stopped for customs and our car was, by chance, astraddle the international boundary as indicated by a clearly defined clearing of trees up the hillside visible from the windows of our car. We young ones jumped back and forth over the imaginary line in the aisle of the car shouting "Now we are in Canada" or "Now we are in the U. S."
Again we stayed in a hotel in Spokane before going on to Oakesdale, perhaps so that Dad could locate housing for us. We lodged at the Galaxy Hotel. Many years later the Inland Empire Education Conference drew me to Spokane regularly and I was told by a native of Spokane that the Galaxy Hotel had become one of the less savory hostels in the shabby center of Spokane.
The first of our three different homes in Oakesdale was a tiny house with four rooms but it had electric lights. The switch was included in the socket fixture. There was running water provided by a town system and the reservoir was on the hill beyond our second home to which we soon moved. Apparently the former tenants or the owner's name was Talley because we used to refer to it later as the Talley house. It was there that Kenneth was born—three days after Christmas. That first Christmas in Oakesdale ranks high in my memory because we were given two gifts which rate as having a lasting effect on my interests. The unusually complete Gilbert Erector set provided me with something of a challenge for several years as well as a great deal of pleasure. The second gift was the Book of Knowledge, a twenty volume set. This was an encyclopedia for children and had a heavy influence on my future habit of reading omnivorously. They are almost dog-eared now but I still go back to them for something I can’t find elsewhere.
Those were the early days of automobiles. While we were still living in the first small house in Oakesdale Uncle Adolph came for one o his visits. He found a job in town and stayed with us for several months. Mother was quite distraught when he and Dad came home with a new automobile which they had bought together. It was a Carnation, the only one of its make I remember seeing. It would rate as a compact because of its small size. It was very narrow and only two people could sit in front. Its greatest mark of distinction was its B-shaped radiator. Later I learned that this radiator had needed some early repair after Dad’s first driving lesson. The car had been stored in a building which had not been designed as a garage and Dad had hit one of the columns supporting the roof.
The headlights were acetylene which was generated in a small cylindrical tank mounted on the running boards from which small copper tubing led to the headlights. I don’t believe cars were required to have stop lights at the time. I still remember the pungent odor of acetylene. It was not hard to understand the reasons for an early shift to an electrical system for lighting in automobiles.
Rarely did we ride ten or twenty miles on a Sunday afternoon that we did not have to change a tire or meet some other emergency. We really could not afford the car and as soon as Uncle Adolph moved on it was sold. However, the idea did not die because about the summer of 1917 we got a huge old Studebaker with genuine leather seats which sent out a most opulent odor when they were exposed to bright sunshine. Both cars were touring models which meant that each had a fabric top, suspended on an ingenious and complex framework which could be taken down when one wanted to drive like the wind. Side curtains were available when it rained. The Studebaker must have been sold in preparation for our move to Tacoma during the summer of 1918.
Automobiles were developing rapidly in those pre-1920 times. There was great local interest in an automobile race from Spokane to Garfield, Pullman or some place to the south--but the route led through Oakesdale. We talked about this for weeks in advance and were especially interested because the scion of one of our richer families, who owned a Hudson Super Six, was rebuilding this car for racing purposes. Of course this was our favorite entry. The day of the race was rainy and perhaps you may not remember what rain did to roads around the Palouse country. They soon became the consistency of chocolate on a hot stove. But the race was to go on.
We were thrilled with the heroics. The drivers wore large goggles .for very good reasons. The windscreen had been removed to reduce air resistance. Running boards, mudguards and convertible tops were removed. They must also have taken off mufflers because the noise was awesome. Drivers were mud spattered and cars were indistinguishable even with big numbers painted on their sides. I don't believe they ever achieved much speed in view of road conditions.
One of the cars lost a front wheel while going full speed. It was rumored that it was caused by foul play. The speed of the car and the weight of the wheel caused it to travel across a field, hit the side of a barn and crash through the wall. In case you are interested, the Oakesdale man did not win.
The only use made of our cars was for Sunday afternoon drives which often took us on a loop that went through two or three neighboring towns such as Rosalia, St. John and often near the only geographical landmark, Steptoe Butte. This was visible for many miles away and it had some historical significance because there had been a battle between U. S. troops under Captain Steptoe and the Indians. We never got to the top of the Butte--maybe because we lacked faith in our car. Driving conditions were generally predictably poor. If it rained the mud was unbelievably slippery and chains had to be put on the wheels to control the car on the narrow roads. It took time to get out the side curtains or even to put up the top if there was a sudden shower. During the summer, between rains, the dirt surface became so deep in a fine flour-like layer that any other traffic raised so much dust that visibility became poor and driving was dangerous.
One-of the features we used to watch for was a large painted sign which hung over a wide gateway to a prosperous farm with its doomsday message, “Where will you spend Eternity?"
We had a cow when we lived on the macadam road in the Talley house. Dad rented pastures and it was my chore to take the cow to pasture mornings after milking and to bring it home to the barn late in the afternoon. Mother sold surplus milk and I used to deliver it, usually one quart nightly, in a lard pail with an airtight lid. I had no idea what milk cost but I would be surprised if we received more than a nickel a quart. My first experience at this sort of task had been back in Kindred when I was only six. Mother raised a garden. She liked to fix vegetables attractively in a tray or basket. I was supposed to go from door to door trying to sell this produce to housewives I dreaded this and it was probably this experience which made me realize that I could never be a salesman.
Back to Oakesdale. There was a small stream flowing along the bottom of our hill. Some winters it would flood and freeze over. One time I must have rushed the season and broke through the ice. When I had climbed out, which wasn't much of a problem, I yanked off my skates and hurried home. It was so cold that my clothing froze and I felt and sounded as if I was walking in sheet metal trousers. Winters lasted a long time and there were many times when the weather warmed up enough to thaw some of the snow. I developed semi-permanent rough spots, almost like calluses, above my arches and around my wrists. Constantly wet socks at the level of my shoe tops and wet sleeves made the skin almost thick and stiff enough to split and crack. Another memory of a young person who enjoyed the available winter sports was the use of old skates. I skated almost anywhere on the sidewalks, using the crunchy ice which had been thawed during warm spells and then frozen to a hard, rough surface. This was hard on the skates one used for regular smooth ice which had to be kept sharp. We had some skis which were short and most unsophisticated on which I recall several cross country trips over wheat fields and frequently over tops of the barbedwire fences. Rolling hills were so gentle in incline that we achieved very little speed.
There were two railroads running through Oakesdale, the Northern Pacific from Spokane to some point south, and one that ran a single car powered by an early diesel or a large gasoline engine. The name of the latter line was something like Oregon-Washington Railroad and Navigation (O.W.R.N.). The latter's car was called the "stink pot" or the dinkey. One of these was still running about 1925 or 1926 and I rode upon it when a couple of us went to Whitman College in Walla Walla to play tennis. In those days of greater isolation the train represented contact with the outside world. Trains brought people, mail and all non-indigenous food and supplies.
There was no sign of a library in Oakesdale so I had read and reread most every book at home. In spite of my hesitancy at serving as a salesman I did screw up enough courage to go about town to ask people if they had any good books I could read. That provided fairly good returns in numbers of books if not in quality.
After we had moved from the Talley house our third and final home in Oakesdale was diagonally across an unused road and an intersecting alley from the school playground. The school was a single building housing all grades through high school. Elementary grades occupied the first two floors and the high school was confined to the third floor. I would guess there may have been thirty or forty pupils in high school and just enough elementary pupils to organize one room for each grade level with the possibility of there being one or two combined rooms with two grades. The basement housed a wood burning furnace and a small wood working shop where I can remember making a bookcase which I still have. The pine boards started out as one inch by twelve inches but after I had left them overnight or a weekend on some steam pipes they were warped so badly that I planed for days to flatten them. The project was far too demanding. I have happier memories of the year of woodwork in the new shop facility that was located in the new gymnasium which was built across the street from our lower lot. I still have the letter holder which was my first project in the new shop. The gymnasium served in several capacities beside sports. The band, organized by Mr. Thune (our friend in Tacoma later), practiced [sic] there which made it very convenient for me.
We were required to stay out of the school building except during bad weather. When the bell rang calling us to class mornings, after lunch and recesses, we lined up in columns below the front steps and marched in to the beat of a triangle. I simply cannot resist bragging that this was my job for several years. Of course this meant that I was on duty until the last pupils were inside the building and I put the triangle away and was privileged to enter class late and inconspicuously.
The playground was heavily used and perhaps our favorite game was pump-pump-pull-away. I forget the rules but it could be fairly rough and competitive. In season there was a cycle of games that came around each year in about the same order: marbles, top spinning, leap frog, football and baseball--all seemed to meet a common need.
The weapons we were allowed to make and use without supervision make me wonder now how we ever survived without loss of eyes or limbs. We made darts out of shingles. A long, narrow piece of shingle was sharpened at the heavier end. This made a tremendous missile when hurled by a knotted string tied to a short strong stick, the knot fitting into the notch in the dart. This would sail for almost unbelievable distances. Between these, crossbows and slingshots, not to forget the traditional bow and arrow, gave us an arsenal with which we occupied ourselves. One other hazardous device was a set of stilts that most of us had. We spent long periods on them during their particular season.
There was an extension of concrete at the top of the foundation of the school building about three or four feet above ground level. We would crawl along the sides of the building like human flies.
Odds and ends of unrelated items that still come to mind and mentioned for no good reason, except that they may have been forgotten, or never known, by some of the younger members of the family:
Sen-sen - a heavily scented small tablet which was used to cover one's breath;
Cubebs - a kind of non-tobacco cigarette;
Licorice root - sold by candy stores which was chewed for the strong basic licorice flavor (it would make me sick today);
Asafetida - a rank, fetid herb which was used as a preventative against colds and other illnesses (it was placed in a small cloth pouch and hung around the neck under one's clothing);
Goose grease vests - when one of us showed signs of a cold, especially in the chest, we were thoroughly rubbed with goose grease and turpentine on our chests and backs and then required to wear scratchy woolen vests until we threw off the symptoms;
Camphor - carried in a small bottle which served as a nasal decongestant and as a cure for cold sores and other canker sores;
Knickers and long black, heavily ribbed cotton stockings that were fastened above the knees, which I had to wear until my second year of high school;
Economizing - such as the traumatic experience of having to wear a pair of shoes that Mother found uncomfortable, perhaps because they had flat heels I had to wear them to school even though they were eight or ten inches high, as most women's shoes were then - the ignomimy was reduced somewhat when I cut off the tops so they were not quite so conspicuous.
I was given piano lessons. Of course I was happy to start but found it too difficult to practice and eventually dropped them. The teacher came to town on Saturdays. She probably had several other pupils as well because her charge was twenty-five cents a lesson. I still recall the rebellion I felt when I had to practice while I could hear my friends playing outside. This made me all the more eager to join the band when the opportunity came and I was allowed to play a cornet. It was a poor choice for me because it was not a good instrument to play alone and I was glad to relinquish it to Roger after I had played a year or two in the first band organized at Lincoln High School.
I have mentioned several times how aware I am of the tendency of childhood memories to exaggerate with time the sizes and distances of places and the relationships of locations. This was most vividly demonstrated to me when we took our family on a trip to eastern Washington and to Oakesdale sometime in the 1940's or 1950's. I had played in the school band and this became the town band on occasions when parades and summer concerts were developed. The community had built a band stand on a corner lot right down in the center town. My memories had the size of the lot and band stand perhaps five or more times as large as they actually were. The lot was eighty feet by one hundred feet instead of its seeming to resemble a small park sixty years ago. The bandstand was a miniature that would have been crowded with twenty people on it. But how exciting those concerts were! I shivered with the thrill of the time the band played a number, part of which consisted of a solo by a cornet player stationed up on the school house hill. We and the band carried on a sort of flirtatious exchange of music.
One of the few truly educational and cultural happenings was the annual Chatauqua series. Upon a vacant lot, a block away from the bandstand, a small circus tent was erected and rows of crude wooden benches were set up on the ground. Every summer, for one week, usually in July or August, traveling artists, speakers, entertainers, choruses and other performers staged a series of programs which were lined up and fielded by the Chatauqua organization. The individuals or groups traveled by train, I believe. For instance, the person who performed his act or number on Monday afternoon had probably done the same thing in a neighboring town the day before and he would probably be doing it again that evening, or perhaps tomorrow in another neighboring town after he had finished his performance in Oakesdale. This series lasted a week and one could buy a season ticket for a reasonable price. I suppose for Oakesdale to qualify for the Chatauqua series a minimum number of season tickets had to be sold by a certain date ahead of time. I don't believe I missed a single performance. I suppose some of the entertainment was corny but I was thrilled with this wealth of new and mind-exploding attractions. This contact with the world was unique for us living in such isolated areas. I still remember several of the speakers. One was the nephew of Lloyd George, Prime Minister of Great Britain! Another speaker got our attention before he started talking by begging our pardon while he moistened his tongue or mouth and proceeded to drink eight or ten full glasses of water.
There was an old, barny theater in town and eventually moving pictures were brought in one or two evenings a week. Mother took me to the first two-reel installment of a serial, "The Trey of Hearts"--the standard cliff hanger. The heroine was tied down across the railroad tracks just before a huge speeding locomotive was due to arrive and then we were urged to return the same evening, next week to see the denouement. Mother and I never missed one of the fifteen installments, which featured Pearl White. I could hardly believe my good fortune because the admission price was ten cents for me and perhaps fifteen cents for mother. I also saw "Birth of a Nation" there. A piano player provided appropriate music--fast, exciting, rippling numbers during frequent chases by or after the villain, soft music for sentiment, etc.
Bruce will remember the summer during which we piled slab wood for Dad's lumber yard. The Potlatch Lumber Company sold that slivery, rough slab wood as a side product of their mills in nearby Potlatch, Idaho. A large supply was shipped into town during the summer so that it would be seasoned by late fall when it would be sold for firewood. I think coal was available but wood was the most common fuel. We piled wood for what seemed to me a very long time--perhaps there were several carloads of it on a vacant lot down near the railroad. This carved out a career for me and I piled wood for many people off and on for several years. My standard rate was ten cents an hour and one warm day after several hours of hot work I brazenly stopped off at the drug store and had a thirty-five cent banana split. Few things have tasted as wonderful as that did and I have thought about it a thousand times.
It was on another job for Dad's firm that two of us, I forget who my working partner was, unloaded a car load of coal. This was a box car and involved a lot of hard, dirty, hot work. I was satisfied because the rate of pay was higher.
There was a hill south of town (I think it was south) upon which was an orchard in which grew the most succulent cherries and pears I have ever eaten. The orchard had apparently been abandoned because it was routine to go up there for fruit, but never after dark. The house was a large, brick structure that seems to me now to have been almost a castle and was rumored to be haunted.
One or two more memories of Oakesdale and I promise to move on. The summers were hot and dry. We were in the heart of the world famous Palouse wheat country. No land at that time, except for a small area in the Ukraine, could raise as many bushels of wheat per acre. Modern farming has increased these yields greatly but perhaps it is still comparatively high. The roads were churned to dust in summer by wagons and teams. The dust would rise in great sloping clouds behind one of these heavy drays hauling sacked wheat to warehouses for shipment. Teams wore bells so they could be heard by oncoming traffic and avoided. The dust was so thick I couldn't ride my bicycle through it.
In this kind of weather anything cooling was worth a great price. I paid for it with my feelings of guilt for going swimming or dipping in the pitiful little creek four or five miles out in the country. Small groups of us would undress in the willows and then skinny dip in the relatively cool water. The water was easily riled up from the muddy bottom which was as slippery as that soil could be when wet. But that is probably the only "swimming I have truly enjoyed. Mother would have been frantic if she had known where I was because she had a horror of water except mudpuddles, which incidentally provided us with much pleasure. After any summer rain we would get permission to take off our shoes and stockings and walk through the mudpuddles.
During the summer of 1917 Mother and I made a trip to Puget Sound. I was a delegate from the local Methodist church to a youth conference which was to be held at the Moran School for Boys on Bainbridge Island. Mother planned to visit her only brother, Bert Shepherd, in Tacoma while I was at the conference. After the conference I was to join her and we would return home. Uncle Bert and Mother delivered me to a building in downtown Seattle from which a party of us were transported to Bainbridge Island via a huge ferry.
I became wretchedly homesick and somehow got back to Seattle and from there to Tacoma where Uncle Bert and Mother met me. We enjoyed several days of sight seeing so much that I am sure Mother eventually prevailed upon Dad to move over in the early summer of 1918. World War I was going full blast and jobs were plentiful at much better wages than Dad was earning in Oakesdale. He worked at Todd's shipyard on a scarfing machine.
Our first home in Tacoma was on Yakima Avenue near south 48th street. Some of us started attending the Horace Mann School that first September for a few weeks before we moved to 35th street and transferred to Willard School. I have mixed memories of that eighth grade. Miss Scholls was a good teacher but I was in a state of great concern without feeling that I understood what was wrong. She said I wasn't working up to my capacity, and why wasn't I? I was having trouble on two fronts but I couldn't verbalize my problems. First, and of the least concern to me, was that, because of my color-blindness, I couldn't get interested in art--or, more likely, I had never had such a subject before in any of my school experience. Second, I was almost literally sick during every lunch period because the first thing we started with in the afternoon was grammar. Again, I believe it was really the first time that I had ever encountered the subject of formal grammar. I simply blocked on it to such an extent that it took several years to straighten things out. I am sure that these two baffling sessions daily had an effect on the whole day.
One of the more interesting things about Willard School was the fact that the baseball backstop wire screen carried a mild current of electricity from some grounded wire or perhaps a short circuit. It was fun to get some innocent to stand nearby and to touch his ear while one's own hand was in contact with the wire screen. I also recall that the principal was Tillman Peterson, who later went to Bremerton as superintendent of schools. Later I was to know him as a good friend when he became a member of the staff of the State Superintendent of Public Instruction, Mrs. Pearl Wanamaker.
I'm sure I have no need to remind any of you who are a part of this tale about the flu epidemic of October and November, 1918. Dad had a fairly light attack and I can only remember the nightmare of the four of us stretched out on cots set up in the front room for what seemed weeks. Mother seemed to be tireless, available round the clock for whatever we needed. Doctors were too busy to be able to spend more than minimum time on individuals. Mother had some difficulty in finding one because we had no such thing as a family doctor. Our fevers soared well over one hundred degrees indefinitely and I believe the only medicine we had was aspirin. This was long before sulfa or penicillin. Kenneth's fever was the highest. His front teeth were at that stage of development [sic] where the enamel was impaired and he later had them capped. I waited nearly fifty years for my after-effects to manifest themselves in the form of Parkinsonism. At least that is one of the theories to explain the high incidence of that disease thereafter. This was a terrible epidemic, world-wide, in which as high as fifteen million people died. I am sure we were fortunate to have gotten off as lightly as we did. I must have been recovering when one day we heard an unusual blast of industrial whistles and many noise-making devices. Later we learned that it marked the end of World War I.
After having spent all of our brief lives in very small towns or of Western North Dakota, the modest opportunities of out on the frontier Tacoma seemed to provide a most stimulating environment, I had never known of a public library until then and this was a golden opportunity that seemed unbelievable. I had wanted to participate in the Boy Scout program but it was not available until then. Here was where I made good use of the Sears Roebuck bicycle I had bought with my thirty dollars in Oakesdale. I had accumulated the thirty dollars over a long period of time and by what methods I have now forgotten. I had enjoyed my bicycle. In fact I was thrilled with it. It was never very practical or essential until we moved to Tacoma when it became the means by which I routinely rode down to the Public Library on Sunday afternoons to return the past week's books and select five more.
I had discovered Zane Grey and other western writers when we were in Canada and I was simply entranced with "The Little Knight of the X Bar B”, "Under the Light of the Western Skies", "The Riders of the Purple Sage" etc., etc. Eventually I moved along to Altshelter whose "mise en scene" was the early frontier where such men as Daniel Boone and other invincibles made the Indians look foolish, especially when they came upon Henry Ware (Alsheiter's hero). In due time I got to Jack London and his stories of the North Country, animals and such pseudo philosophical stories as John Barley Corn and many, many more.
We also played down in the gulches, of which there were two, usually with or in the water which was available in the form of pools large enough to build, launch and navigate rafts or as streams which could be controlled by dams or canals.
The change from the climate of the Palouse country to that of Puget Sound was mystifying after having spent most of my previous years in a climate of hot summers. It was so hot in Oakesdale that Dad erected a large tent in the backyard so we would not have to go up into the oven-like temperatures in those small, poorly ventilated bedrooms. I remember wondering why I seemed so cool under a bright blue sky and the occasional clear sunshine of that first August in Tacoma.
One more tale and then I will close this nostalgic binge. When we moved into the house on 35th street, the former occupant, from whom Dad purchased the house, was a widow of a sea captain. She left an old, small trunk full of "junk" along with a note and a dollar bill asking us to arrange to have the trunk taken to the dump. I asked Mother if she thought it would be right for us to go through the trunk inasmuch as the owner had wanted it disposed of and we got permission to investigate. There were two items I remember with great clarity: an old mariner's telescope, which I still have, and an old fashioned knitted silk purse with a handful of old foreign and U. S. Coins. I remember that there were silver five cent pieces and even one or two silver three cent pieces. This would have been the foundation of a wonderful coin collection but I knew nothing about such a hobby. I regret to admit it, but I took them down, perhaps one at a time and bartered them at the store for their face value in candy. Had I only kept them and paper route collections of 1919 to 1923 of approximately fifteen dollars in coins each Saturday, I could have built up a collection what would be beyond belief in value today. The catalog values of the three cent pieces such as I traded for candy now range from $7.00 to $45.00--perhaps even more.
I have enjoyed this nostalgic project and hope I have not made too many errors in relating so many things in which three brothers, later four, participated. The chronicle has been brought to the point where each has his own memories of our early lives. Sometime I would like to see your accounts of this same period which I have covered to find how many interesting incidents and facts I have overlooked or just plain forgotten.