by Arlene Blevans
The spring after the Blevans family wintered in the little log cabin with no floor, in the midst of a flat surrounded by a virgin forest of towering pine trees, they moved into a much better cabin close to the Byron Janes’ cabin.
I do not know what they ate that first winter. they must have had some money to buy provisions for the winter. Dad most likely had worked in the harvest fields “over the mountains” and earned some, though wages were low. Also they had sold their relinquishment to the claim on the Divide, but I do not know what they got.
Cousin Caroline Wasson Thomason; a cousin of sort, of yours, Billie, told me that I should ask my folks all the questions I could think of for some time I would want to know the things that none but their generation could tell me. And I did ask Mother a lot, but failed to put it down and now I am forced to speculate on the things that I wish I knew. Caroline was an instructor and writer. Sometime I will write about her but this is the Blevans story.
At any rate I presume Dad must have bought provision before leaving “the Valley” as the area around Joseph is called. Also I’m sure he killed deer along as they needed it as they were plentiful and game laws were unheard of. And wood of course was to be had for the chopping.
The move was a happy one as the cabin was larger, fairly new, and close to the Janes’ cabin. Mrs. Janes became a good friend of Mother’s and it was comforting to be near someone else. Mother taught a three months term of school in a small, one room, log cabin. the logs were large hewn logs approximately square. There were two half windows in the south side and two in the north side. Incidentally, I completed my eight years of schooling, rather ten years, as I was 16 when I passed the eight grade examination, here in this same cabin. A door made of boards opened on the western end. Mother got $25 a month which was badly needed as she was expecting me by that time and needed the money to buy clothing for me.
Dad put in the summer clearing land on the opposite side of the river from the small cabin, for the new cabin. Then he had to cut and peel logs for the cabin. He had to locate a shake tree for shakes for the roof. The tree had to be straight grained with few knots. They were then felled, cut in shake length cuts and riven into shakes with a tool called a froe, which had a blade made by a blacksmith and a handle at right angles with the blade. It had to be hammered with a mallet to start the split. I gather that it was quite a chore to rive enough shingles for a cabin, small though ours was in comparison to some. So Dad was late gettin’ the material accumulated for the raising. In addition to this labor he had to take a wagon, ford the river those 23 times going and coming, traverse the “Saddle Grade” and travel those narrow roads to Joseph for lumber for the floor, bedsteads, door and window frames. Also hardware for the door, and nails. This trip most likely took him over a week. And he would have to make another trip for provisions for another winter before “snow flew” as the saying went in those days.
So it was late fall before the house raising. The leaves were a bright yellow, the sky the bluest blue. To canyon people the sky is a much deeper, brighter blue than for those in the uplands.
Mother was worried that I would put in an appearance before they were moved but they won that race. Neighbors came and helped with the “raising” as was the custom in those days. It was quite a social event. They brought a picnic lunch and in some instances had a hoe-down on the new floor, but not in this case. The logs were chinked from outside and in, with sections of logs split and trimmed to fit the chinks between the logs, and they were often mortared with mud to keep out the winter air. The cabin was then roofed with the shakes which were yellow when riven but soon weathered to a friendly gray. The door and window were framed, the door hung and the windows put in, the floor laid and it was ready to move into.
It was a much larger cabin than the two previous homes, but now it would seem like a very poor home indeed, but to my folks I’m sure it was something to be very proud of. There was one room about 15 feet by 25 feet I would say. For a store room there was a loft, made by placing boards over the joists. It was accessible by a ladder nailed to the wall and a square “trap door” in the floor.
I was born in this cabin and lived there until I was 8 years old, and it is my opinion that it had a bed room partitioned off from the kitchen part but Kenneth was older and has a better memory than I, so I bow to his authority that there was just the one room with a double window, that is a two sash window in the south and a single sash in the north.
Nights fall quickly in the valleys and here the western mountain was close to the cabin so the winter days were dank indeed in the cabin and nights poorly lit with one coal oil lamp. And sometimes if we were out of coal oil or had broken the last chimney we used candles. I remember once Mother was making me a doll dress and I was flipping around and broke the last chimney and we had no candles so she opened the cook stove door and finished the dress by this flickering light. Poor Mother.
The one door was fastened by a thumb latch. Mr. Webster describes this much better than I so here is what he says, “A kind of door latch operated by the thumb being placed on the lever to raise the latch.” It could not be opened from the outside without a string being tied to the latch and then being run through a hole in the door and left dangling on the outside, hence the old saying, “Our latch string is always out.” This meant that anyone, at any time, day or night, could have access to the cabin, and be welcomed gladly by the tenants. This would be a good slogan to describe the hospitality of the pioneers.
Some of the precious lumber was used for a door step and the cabin was complete. They hurriedly papered the walls with accumulated “Spokesman Review”-a twice-a-week news paper, published in Spokane. I can never remember my dad being without it. In later years, I recall that Mother was very careful to paste the sheets right side up (with cooked flour paste). Presumably this kept avid news hungry wayfarers from kinking their necks while standing reading the walls. And I remember too, their frustration at not being able to find the end of some story.
Too, I remember a friend of Mother’s that had a newspaper on her wall back of a table where she stood working a lot. She said there was a picture of a child with a crippled foot right before her and when her baby had a crooked foot she laid it to the fact that this picture was there. How these many years later I read an article saying that the things you saw and thought about affected the physique of the child.
In what I remember as the bedroom in one corner Dad built a double bed by using some more lumber. The “springs” were slats. Their mattress, a “tick” filled with straw, over which was placed a wool mattress made by washing the fleeces of sheep and carding them soft in bits by wool cards. Quite a chore, but the comforts were warm and soft, and the mattresses softened the impact of the slat bed. The wool was placed for the comforts and mattresses between pieced taps or in the case of the mattress, ticking, and tied with strong yarn or twines.
Across the room at right angles to the big bed was a similar one, much smaller for Kenneth. I slept with the folks until I was four or five, then Dad built me a trundle bed which slid under Kenneth’s bed day times and was hauled out at night, leaving very little room to move around in at night.
In the south end of the cabin we had a small cast iron cook stove, which stood on legs. There were four smallish lids. The cooking area was inadequate but Mother made the best of it. There was a hearth out front and a damper over the hearth. Also a small oven. The door to the fire box laid down and that was where we toasted our bread, by propping the open door toward the fire with an old iron fork. More often than not the toast was burned. Our heater sat in the middle of the living area with a pipe going straight up through the roof. It was a round drum affair that heated up immediately, and kept the cabin snug and warm. Dad, so Kenneth remembers, stacked a considerable amount of wood across one side of the cabin so we would always have a dry wood. dad would find a pitch tree and cut and split it in small pieces. The last thing at night he would get a quantity of these sticks and shave them for building the fires in the morning.
Mother made braided rugs for the floor to be placed here and there. The beds were covered with home made quilts, some very lovely, and the windows were contained with a red material they called “turkey red”. It was bright and cheerful. All in all the place took on a comfortable homey look and I think my parents were quite happy there.
Mother had a sewing machine which not every one had at that time. She had bought it with money she had earned teaching school. She sewed beautifully and made all of my clothes and her own, and many of Kenneth’s. Mother had a table and cupboard that her father had made for her mother. Everything that could be was hung on the walls as we had little storage space. They had two large trunks that were put up in the loft for storage purposes. They also had a bed up there where wandering wayfarers slept at times.
The one end of the cabin served as living room, dining room, kitchen, bath laundry and sewing room. As you may have guessed there was little space. We use to sit around the dining table evenings. Dad and Mother played cribbage some times. Sometimes Mother read to us. Or Dad played the fiddle or sang songs to us children. We went to bed early and got up early. In the summer we moved our beds out under the pine trees in the back yard. That was wonderful. Our cabin was built on a flat, back from the river for some distance to avoid us children falling in the river and drowning, but it was a problem getting water. In the Spring when the snows melted a spring branch came down the ravine above the cabin. Dad ditched it down close to the house so for a time getting water was no trouble. And it was wonderful to play in. We digged a pond, stocked it with frogs that we had captured in a swamp some distance from the place. The croaked merrily all spring. We loved them dearly as individuals. Green ones were a great find. The ordinary gray ones were just another frog. We built a small road around the pond for our little toy houses and wagons. Later we had ducks and they loved it but sooner or later found the river so that was the last of them, so we raised no more ducks.
I have a picture in my mind of the cabin that I wish I could paint for you, Dad had me on behind him on old Neb, our faithful old mare. We had been hunting cones or something and were coming home down the trail which followed the river, at a higher elevation across from the house. I had become turned around and when Dad pointed at the cabin and said “I wonder who lives there?” It was utterly foreign to me and I told him I didn’t know. But it had such a home look and stood in the midst of a clearing with the smoke ascending from the chimney. I thought it a lovely place and wished I lived there. I was quit embarrassed when I found it was our home. Dad thought it quite amusing.
Next time I shall tell you of my birth, not a world shattering event, bu I managed to kick up quite a storm, Dad disgraced himself, and a neighbor boy who is now our County Judge, nearly burned our precious home down – and I missed death by a miracle.