by Jennie Beith Blevans
(Transcribed by Tess Reams – 2011)
Kenneth once asked me to write a short biography of my life and as I’ve often wished my mother had left us a written sketch of her life I am starting this and will give some data on my immediate ancestors.
I was born near the Southern line of Minnesota 5 miles from Waseca, in Waseca County on May 18, 1866, that being the anniversary of the birth of my mother’s twin brother and sister, George and Hannah French.
My father was born July 7th, 1825 near Glasgow, Scotland near Largs and died in Kansas City, Mo. November 17th, 1888. His boyhood was spent on the River Clyde near its mouth. He was an expert swimmer and oarsman, often taking part in swimming and boating races. His father was a school teacher and died at the age of 56. His mother’s maiden name was Barbara King. He had a brother James 5 years his senior, a sister Jane also his senior, and a younger brother William who died in his early childhood.
His Brother and his wife, Mary, had three daughters Jennie, Nellie and Louisa. Also lost a baby boy 5 months of age. His name was William. His sister married John Russell. They both died before I was born leaving two boys, William and Johnnie, and a daughter Hannah. She was adopted by people named Bull. Johnnie lived with my folks for several years. He educated himself for a lawyer and was practicing law the last account of them we had. Have had no word from them since Father died.
Father came to America at the age of 25. My Mother Emma French was born July 18, 1831 in Erdington, 3 miles from Birmingham England. She had 9 brothers and sisters only four of whom reached maturity. Mother, her twin brother and sister George and Hannah and a sister Annie who died at the age of 17.
Her father’s name was Thomas French. Her mother’s maiden name was Kitty Ewers and her mother’s Essex. The Family emigrated to America when Mother was 19 and lived in Illinois several years. They crossed the ocean in a sailing vessel and were becalmed for three weeks. They were on the ocean 6 weeks. Mother often told us of the good times the young people had on that trip , sometimes dancing or playing games and having programs. She often told us of the beauties of England – of the lovely lanes with hedges of roses on each side. She left a sweetheart there but four years later met Father in Illinois and they were married August 31, 1854.
Three children were born in Illinois. The oldest, Barbara, died at the age of 8 mos. Alice and Will were born in St. Charles. They moved to Minnesota when Will was a year old and Jessie, Clara and I were born there. Clara and I in the same house. Walter was born in Kansas.
Mother’s brother George and his wife Alma had 12 children – 6 girls + 6 boys – 2 boys and 2 girls died in early childhood. One two year old boy was killed by falling in a well – 52 feet. Her sister Hannah had three children – a girl and a boy reached maturity. A boy died at birth. The girl was 2 years older than I and always a dear companion.
To go back to my grandparents – My father’s father I never saw or my mother’s mother. He (William Beith) was a school teacher and died of pneumonia at 56. She (Kitty Ewers) died of dropsy and heart trouble at the age of 63 almost 3 years before my birth. My mother’s father (Thomas French) we knew and loved. I remember how we children ran to meet him and how he dismounted and put Clara, Walter and me on his horse.
Grandmother Beith came to live with us when I was 5 weeks old and I was her idol. She dealt a good deal of misery to the other children if she imagined they were infringing on my rights in any way. She stayed with us until we moved to Kansas when she was 84 years old. Up to that time she was very strong and active – walking anywhere she wished to go. Often walked to a wild plum grove a mile distant – carrying home plums which she made into preserves. At that time she was everything to be desired but since I have been told she was a very irascible old lady but living at that age with 5 children of our ages she might be excused. She lived to the age of 87 and was only slightly gray. Her maiden name was Barbara King.
We left Minnesota May the 22nd, 1872. I was just 6 years old but I remember a great many things which happened there and I have a memory picture of the farm and house and buildings and its surroundings. My earliest recollection of which I know the actual date was the birth of sister Clara April 6, 1869 when I was almost 3 years old. I think I remember things that happened before that. I remember sitting on my grandmother’s lap and of her feeding me bread and milk from a white bowl – that must have been pretty early in my life. The names of towns with which I was familiar were Jamesville, Faribault (Fariboo), Winona, Fort Snelling, Redwing, Mankato and St. Peter. Father often worked there.
He was a stone cutter and stone mason and a splendid one – was often foreman on big jobs. There are many of his stone buildings still standing, tho he has been gone 45 years.
We drove an ox team from Minnesota to Kansas – or rather two teams or yokes as they were called. One yoke Dick and Dan we kept for several years after reaching Kansas and it caused much regret among us children when Father traded them for a span of mares – Pet and Franny -the first horses Father ever owned. Dick was a very large white ox – just two months older than I. He arrived in a snow storm – or rather a blizzard – and to save him and his mother, Father had to take them in the cellar. Brother Will broke him and his mate when they were calves and was very proud of the job and they certainly were well trained. The other Yoke were Buck and Bright.
The memory of that trip is rather hazy – a few events stand out clearly. One is of Father swimming in some river (quite a large one) and diving and staying under water for some distance and Clara screaming in terror when he went under. I remember one of our oxen, Bright I think, died on the way and Father drove old Devon, the milk cow which we were taking to our new home. As soon as possible Father purchased another ox – but he was unbroken and caused considerable trouble before he became tractable. Also Clara lost a well loved doll, Georgie Medworth, named for a cousin. But the thing which thrilled me most was crossing the Missouri River on a large ferry boat. It was the 4th of July and there was quite a large party of children and young people dressed in white carrying parasols. They were crossing to celebrate on the other side.
Then I remember being awakened I the night by Clara’s crying – she has been put to bed in the tent with the other children instead of sleeping with Father and Mother as usual, and waking in the night she had gone to hunt their bed and was discovered walking over the caved off bank of the deep Kaw River. I remember Mother’s shuddering horror of what might have happened.
A family by the name of Fanning made the trip with us. We were 6 wks on the road – about 800 miles.
Grandfather French and Aunt Hannah with her two children George and Lizzie (her husband John Medworth had been killed in a mine in what was then Idaho Territory – part of which is now Montana and was buried at Helena) had preceded us to Kansas two years earlier and after a short time visit with them we moved on to what we have always spoken of as “the claim”.
We lived in the wagons and a small tent. The weather was very hot and the water very poor and before long most of the family were down with ague. The memory of that summer which stands out most clearly is of Mother being ill and the smell and taste of wild sage which we had been told was a cure for ague. We proved the fallacy of that as we drank quantities of the tea but still we shook. I think Father must have been away at work as I have no recollection of him being with us – altogether it is a dreary memory.
The Fanning family lived on an adjoining claim and their camp was close to ours. They went thru the same experience as our family. That fall we abandoned the claim and moved into a once roomed house a half mile or less from Grandpa’s. Times were very hard in Kansas at that time and since I am older we learned that winter was one of the hardest my family ever experienced. Of its hardships I realized very little.
Cousin Lizzie and I played together daily and we formed an attachment that was to last thru all our lives. I have heard the family say that corn bread and sorghum molasses constituted the bill of fare of the teacher and pupils. The three older children went to school. It was too far for me and the winter was severe. Many cattle died on the plains that winter. Father with others went buffalo hunting but brought home little meat and it was poor and tough.
In the spring Father bought the improvements on a 160 acre place and we moved to a somewhat larger house – tho small for our family. Also bought some chickens – I remember yet the thrill when I found the first eggs in the manger.
Brother Walter was born that spring and the night of his birth Clara and I were taken to a neighbors (where we stayed 2 or 3 days) Mrs. Edmiston, an old Southern lady whom ever after we called Grandma Edmiston, and she completely won my heart. She was always doing Mother and us children some kindness and I remember how proud I was a few years later when she broke an arm, to comb her hair every day and be able to do something in return. She made me feel that my services were indispensable.
Our school was a mile and a half across the prairie and only short terms. I didn’t start to school until the fall after I was 9 in May. I had been taught at home some and began in the third reader. My first teacher was an old maid Hettie Longstreth, whom I adored.
Brother Will attended school that term – the only year we were in school together. I was the only small girl in school tho there were several larger ones. I played with Will and the rest of the boys all winter and he was, as always, my hero, and from the time I learned to walk I tried to imitate him in every way I could.
That winter when playing Black man he and sometimes others of the boys would each take one of my hands and the way we went through wasn’t slow. One time my imitating him might have turned out disastrously only for the fact that he was fleeter of foot than I. He was burning off a little patch of grass and laid down leaning on his elbow. I did the same and was more intent on my pose than watchful of the fire. My dress caught fire and but for that my flannel petticoat burned slowly I probably wouldn’t be scratching this.
Sister Jessie and I were in school together two terms. Times were so hard both she and Will had to quit school just at the time they should have been learning the most. It was a life long regret to both that they had so little advantages of schooling.
The next 4 or 5 years I went across the prairie to school, dearly loving it. I learned very easily except arithmetic, which was the bane of my school days until I was about 14 when it became clear to me and always afterwards was my favorite study.
I cannot remember just when the “grasshopper year” came but think the summer of 1875. We had heard of them being in Missouri and were hoping they would stay there, but one day they came flying over in swarms so thick as to darken the sun – looked much the same as large snow flakes except the color. All day they flew over. Neighbors gathered together and stood watching them, hoping and praying that they would not light but about 4 o’clock they began to settle down.
Roasting ears were just ready to use and other garden stuff – in 24 hours there wasn’t a vestige of green left. Peach pits were hanging on the trees stripped – no one who didn’t experience it can possibly imagine the hardships of that winter. The pigs ate so many grasshoppers their meat was unfit for use. Few families had any white flour. There was still plenty of last year’s corn for meal. Other states sent aid to stricken Kansas. Brother Will went to get our donation once a week but as far as I remember we did not get much clothing of any value and not a great deal of food.
The grasshoppers deposited their eggs in the ground and everyone feared there would be another grasshopper scourge but some time after hatching out they arose and flew West and the hard times gradually lessened tho drought and ague were always to be reckoned with. Tho in a few years the ague left us.
Father had planted a peach orchard the first year on the new place. The house was on a square piece of unbroken ground and the orchard was on all sides – partly as a wind shield. He also planted Osage orange seeds and set a hedge all around the place and one dividing the pasture from the fields. He cut prairie grass for hay. It grew 2 or 3 feet high. Our crops were mostly corn. I have spent many evenings with the rest of the family sitting in a circle around a tub shelling corn which Father sold in El Dorado or took to the grist mill to be ground into meal. Later we had hand corn shellers which we thought was a wonderful improvement.
For several years we planted corn with hand planters, then riding planters came into use. I have spent many a day riding on a planter pushing and pulling a lever which at every movement planted two hills of corn (two rows).
The next few years passed me very much like all the rest. They were happy years, especially summers. Roaming over the prairies hand in hand with Clara – hunting for wild flowers or bird nests. Father was a lover of nature and very often took us children to see a birds nest he had found. He taught us to be very careful not to disturb the birds in any way. He taught us the names and habits of the different birds. I have kept my love for birds thru all the years and think of my father very often when watching them.
He often took us swimming in West Branch, a creek a mile from home. Said swimming consisted of splashing around in a foot and a half of water – tho he did give us some swimming lessons – but owing to the fact that he worked away from home most of the time summers we never became very proficient in the art.
During my first 5 or 6 years in Kansas my dearest playmate (always excepting Clara and Lizzie) was a little motherless boy a year or two older than I – his name was Georgie Spaulding. I can see him yet in my minds eye. Auburn hair, brown eyes, very fair skin with a sprinkling of freckles. He played all my little girl plays. Played house with me. For about two years we went across the prairie together to school. He moved away when I was 10 or 11 and I saw him only occasionally. He died of T.B. at the age of 18 but by that time I was away out West in Oregon – but it saddened me for days. I still think he was a wonderfully nice boy.
When I was 13 our school Dist. was divided and our district built a nice new modern school house only 1/4 of a mile from our home. It was painted white and plastered on the inside – and had its name Independence painted on the front with the date. We were very proud of it but were not allowed to go to school there but two terms.
Alice was married the spring I was 12 and the following spring Julius bought half of our farm and moved in with us while they were building their house. They were there about 5 mos. and Willie was born at our house. Such a great event – a baby in the family. We all adored him. He was a very handsome baby – brown eyes and red cheeks. Walter was an uncle at 6 – and on the first night being asked to get his kindling said, “Uncles do not get kindling”, but Mother convinced him that they did.
Father never could be contented long in one place and began talking of the glories of Washington Territory about that time and I well remember the day two years later when Clara came to Alice’s where I was working. Nellie being a few weeks old (Oct 15th 1881) and said “Pa has sold the place and in the spring we are going to Washington Territory”. I couldn’t believe it – couldn’t believe that anything so terrible could happen to us. I was 15 years old at that time and had been going out in company for several months. Had a really grown up escort on several occasions – a man 22 years old – and felt duly important – however it wasn’t hard to leave him, as nothing but my vanity was much involved but thought I was very much in love with a school mate 3 years my senior and he considered himself my “beau” and we were very unhappy over the impending separation.
Jessie was married that fall and of course could not go with us. Alice expected to come later and did come the next March – but there were all my schoolmates and friends and my dearest cousins Lizzie and George, and Jessie and Al who I loved as much as a real brother. I was utterly miserable and thinking of those months before we started I can never think children’s troubles are lesser than those of grown ups. But Father went relentlessly on preparing for the journey. He bought a span of mules and a second wagon. The mules were Kale and Jule and after having been acquainted with them I’ve always had a liking for mules. They were so intelligent and tractable. He traded Fanny, a little black mare, for a larger brown mare Polly. We had a pretty bay mare Pet. Will called them Sorghum and Pickle. He put a frame around the box of the wagon he was to drive making it quite a bit wider. In the back he built a cupboard with a door that let down held by a strap at both ends that was designed to answer the purpose of a table – but after the first day or two we used it as a cook table and sat on the wagon seats with out plates in our laps. Of course took the seats out of the wagon – we had boxes in the back of the wagon and Clara and I had our bed on them. Father and Mother made their bed in the front of the wagon box – Will and Walter slept in the tent.
Father set the date of our departure for May first – which fell on Monday, but for some reason or no reason except that we were ready he decided to leave on Thursday. A lovely bright morning. We had expected to have Sunday with Lizzie and the boyfriend, also expecting Al and Jessie out – but were denied the doubtful comfort of saying goodbye. No matter how long I may live I’ll never forget the hopeless misery of that day.
I spent much of the forenoon in the back of the wagon dissolved in tears and when the house where Lizzie was living (and which we passed by at a half mile distance) faded in the distance I was indeed sunk. I didn’t think so much then of what the parting meant to Mother but later I realized how very hard it must have been to leave her girls and her brother and sister. Of all that started that morning she was the only one who did not come back again for visits.
Walis and Ida Stearns wanted me to stay with them. Said they would educate me but I didn’t want to stay if Mother and the rest went. Cousin George who was always like a brother, even asked me out of pure sympathy and kindness of heart to run away with him and go to Indian Territory and get married – but that didn’t appeal to me either and another young friend was condoling with me about leaving and said he could fix that all right if I’d just say the word but there was no comfort in any of it. I knew I was too young to be married and if my boyfriend had asked me to take that way out I’d have refused. He was 19 without a home.
We ate dinner in Sedgewick County and camped that night with 25 wagons bound for the West. We traveled with most of them until we were in Idaho.
It began raining that night. Not an Oregon mist but a downpour and rained all day Friday and all day Saturday – and two such dreary days sitting in the tent thinking we could have had those days at home. I think that was the only time we have to lay over on account of rain. Sunday morning the sun shone brightly and we started on. All thru Kansas we traveled along the Atchinson Topeka and Santa Fe R.R. (A.T.S.)
Level prairie with not much settlement except the towns. We made about 40 miles per day. Each one had their work to do. I washed the dishes and Clara handed Mother who was in the wagon such things as went inside and she placed them. We arose about 4:30 or 5:00. Will took great pride in having his team hitched up first of anyone. He usually hitched Father’s team up, or finished. He also had our teams out and fed before anyone else’s. He helped with the cooking. He had worked in cow camps and learned to make potato soup. We had never eaten any before and nothing ever tasted better. We were always hungry.
Mother had fried a lot of ham and put it down in stone jars covered with the grease. She made light bread and put it in the pans as we traveled along – made it into biscuits, as we just had a sheet iron stove and at noon we were ready to bake. We were always hungry by the middle of the forenoon and Mother formed the habit of putting up a bunch of biscuits and ham or biscuits and butter with lettuce or other things. Can taste those lunches yet.
Father was supposed to drive the horses but being a great reader and never having had much interest in horses I had to do a lot of it – tho it didn’t take much driving thru Kansas. But after we got to rougher country I became quite proficient – had always liked to drive. After a few days we girls began to take notice again and found there were a number of young people in the wagon train. Will had already become acquainted with them and was very anxious for us to know them and get out of the dumps – tho he didn’t say that was the reason – and it wasn’t long until life became almost livable again tho in my mind there was a constant thought of those left behind.
We always laid over Sundays and those days were a barren waste – nothing to read and nothing to do. But I was, and am, too much of a gypsy not to enjoy the trip. And after a week or so I enjoyed it thoroughly. Clara and I and some other girls – a Mary Taylor among them had a habit of starting on ahead of the teams after dinner. At first after walking a mile or so we were ready to ride but the day we crossed the state line into Colorado at Granada we walked 9 ½ miles without being too tired. Had the mile posts on the RR to prove it.
On one occasion after a rain we found the small streams very high. They were narrow and steep banks down on each side – my brother being a good teamster drove his mules across first. Had a young man, Price Goodall, ride with him to brake for him but he put the brake on just as he should have taken it off and one of the mules fell or was jerked down under the water. Will got out into the water and unbuckled the harness and got her up. Caused considerable excitement. One woman who had rheumatism and whose husband had to lift her down from the wagon jumped to the ground unassisted. Will drove a mule back and drove our other team across. He gave me the job of braking which I did to his entire satisfaction and my inordinate pride.
He also drove several other teams across for timid drivers. Will got me a diary and indelible pencil when we started. Had only room for a few lines each day. The indelible pencil faded in a few years until it was not legible.
I do not remember when we first sighted Pike’s Peak. It was our first sight of a mountain. We learned how deceiving distances can be in a mountainous country. We were days reaching the foot of Pike’s Peak after we thought we were almost there. Also when we came in sight of smoke from the great smoke stacks at Ft. Steele, Colorado we thought we should reach the city in an hour’s time but it was three days steady travel before we arrived.
We had expected to get our first letters from home at Pueblo but there wasn’t a scratch nor at Odgen. The next place we had given them to write – and I’d as well say right here that we didn’t receive a line till we had been on Prairie Creek 2 months. I can never understand it – most of them had been forwarded to Walla Walla from Pueblo and Ogden. We received 44 letters in the first batch and almost that number the second time.
We and the rest of the wagon train stopped at Ft. Collins, Colo. to work 9 days on an irrigation ditch. It was June and the country was lovely. Fort Collins was a pretty little town. Remember a Negro in a store there had several wild pets, among them a young ‘coon that was so tame and as playful as a kitten. First live one I’d ever seen. I passed part of the time making (by hand) some very beruffled aprons.
We had gone thru Denver before coming to Ft. Collins. It was, and is, a lovely city. We met a funeral procession in Denver. The deceased must have been a very important person as the horses were all white and I think were nearly 100 teams.
I forgot to mention that Walter met with the only accident any of us had on the trip some time before stopping at Ft. Collins. We had grown very proficient at getting in and out of the wagons as they were going along – but this time he slipped in some way and his foot was caught between the brake block and the wheel and the skin and part of the flesh was taken off on one side of his foot. Mother doctored it with Will’s help and it healed very rapidly. One little 6 year old boy fell between the wheels of their wagon and the back wheel went over him but fortunately the ground was mostly sand and he wasn’t badly hurt, but his folks suffered considerable alarm.
Father with most of the wagon train, 25 in all, decided to ship by railroad from Ft. Collins to the end of the line (which at that time was Pocatello, Idaho) in order to miss the hardest part of the journey. We went through Cheyenne and Laramie and then West thru part of Utah. I always remember Utah as being the prettiest part of our journey – at least part of it. On each side of the reads were hedges of wild roses. Mother said it reminded her of the lanes in England.
We laid over in Ogden one day and two nights. We got head lettuce there, the first we had ever seen. It was Cos and how we did enjoy it with our good light bread and butter. The emigrant train was quite a change from our wagons and we enjoyed the novelty tho I believe the sleeping accommodations were pretty sketchy. Tho at that age sleeping never bothered me much.
In Ogden we saw 6 very hard looking Indians in custody of a sheriff and a deputy. They were handcuffed and had the most evil countenances imaginable. We learned they were arrested for horse stealing and that they belonged to the Snake Tribe. We had never seen any but our Cherokee and they are mostly very handsome.
While going through Wyoming we saw many bands of antelopes – seemingly not very wild. Father killed one. I don’t remember if it was before we took the train or after we got off. We thought it was excellent meat. He also killed an elk in Idaho, which we thought was fine eating.
I forgot to mention the table rocks near Colorado Springs – they consisted of large pedestals, some only a few feet high but others 15 or 20 feet high, each with a large flat rock lying on top of them loose. Also one place near these where we camped and laid over to wash there was a series of cone shaped hills all very much alike. Some perhaps 50 feet high but most of them not so tall. The ground between them was perfectly level – they were covered with grass and vegetation. Some had cedar or juniper trees on them. I wandered around among them picking flowers and hunting curious stones until I lost myself completely. It was all so much alike. I had visions of lying out all night with the whole wagon train hunting me but by sheer good fortune I found my way out to where I knew where to find camp. But for a little while I was one panicky kid. While camped there it snowed.
When we arrived at Pocatello we found two new lumber buildings in the middle of a plain, mostly covered with sage brush. It was quite hot for a few days but we crossed thru some low mountains in the next few days and one day there was a very cold wind and flakes of snow flying in the air and I never remember suffering from the cold more.
About four o’clock we got down on Wood River and it seemed like coming out of the cold into a warm room. Later when we lived in the Imnaha I was to experience the same sensation many times when coming down from the Butte country into the head of Nine Mile Canyon. To us prairie people coming into that sort of weather in June it was a pretty hard experience.
It was about that time we saw our first magpie. We thought they were beautiful birds. Mother had known them somewhere before, I think in England.
In the train were three young men traveling together in one wagon. One, Tom, a tall dark young man who I thought quite handsome. Another, whom they called Shorty. If I ever know either of their surnames I’ve forgotten them. The third a youngster not much older than I. Gay Harshman. Tom was quite dignified and especially nice to me. Shorty was chock full of humor and kept us all amused. Gay had light curly hair and a sunshiny smile for everyone – always happy. The three were very popular in the wagon train, especially Gay – everyone liked him.
Tom gave me a young magpie partly feathered out and I was very happy to own such a lovely bird. I don’t remember how long I kept it but some days and it was growing and developing nicely but one evening when I went to take the box we had made into a cage from the wagon my Magpie was gone. I was quite sad over losing it and wasn’t sure whether it would starve to death or was able to live by its own efforts – still would like to know.
Not long after that we parted with the three young men. Some 25 years later I read in the Oregonian of one Gay Harshman being arrested in Portland for a highway robbery. The age was about right for our Gay and the name being uncommon I feared it was the same. He was sent to the penitentiary and I’ve always hoped it was some other Gay Harshman.
We crossed thru the lava beds. At that time the road wound around the deep pits and the rocks. I think the highway must miss them entirely now. It is a queer formation. It shows very plainly in some places where the melted lava has run down the mountainside, cooled, and later other flows have run down, each flow not reaching as far as the preceding one.
We crossed the 40 mile desert just after leaving the lava beds. We rested our teams till toward evening and filled our water kegs and traveled all night. All except the drivers slept as best we could. Stopped from time to time during the night and fed the teams and the drivers also ate.
It is a little hazy in my mind whether we crossed the lava beds and desert before coming to Wood River or afterwards. However, anyone well enough acquainted with the geography of Idaho will know and if interested enough can look it up – if lacking the information.
We met many bands of sheep all through Idaho and some herds of cattle being driven to eastern markets. Every day we met freight teams, 10 and 12 spans of horses or mules hitched to heavy wagons with several trail wagons heavily loaded with freights. It was all quite new and strange to us. The dust at some times was terrific.
I failed to mention that we had an old man in the train who had crossed the plains many times and acted as guide. He had a long white beard and looked as a patriarch of old should. Clara or I or one other girl sometimes rode with him half a day at a time and he seemed to appreciate it very much and spun us long winded yarns of former trips when there was a danger of Indians and when the streams were not bridged as they then were. The danger of quicksand had been very great and they sometimes ferried across in their wagon beds. Don’t ask me how they got their wagons across for I don’t know, if I ever did. We only forded one stream that might have had a danger of quicksand – the Arkansas River. There wasn’t much water and it was very wide and we were advised to keep our teams moving at a brisk gait. But we had no trouble, though some of the women were terrified, Mother among them. I felt no fear – at that time I don’t think I’d ever feared any personal danger.
Somewhere between Pocatello and Boise we over took a family from Butler County near where we had lived. The family consisted of a mother (she was a widow) and two grown sons and a grass widow daughter and her four year old boy. They had started three weeks before us with one wagon. Their team was given out and they were lying over resting them. We (except Father who had worked with the eldest son) had not been much acquainted with the family. The son had been to see us before they started and wanted us to travel with them, but none of us wanted to and Will said having but one wagon they would be overloaded and couldn’t travel as fast as we could.
But Father insisted on waiting for them a few days, said we would take what was called the “Boise cut off” and overtake the rest of the train. So we stayed till the time we had set for leaving, but when we overtook them Father insisted on waiting a few days till their teams recuperated. None of us wanted to. Father assured us that by taking the Boise cutoff we would overtake the rest of the wagon train. We were sad to see the train go on without us and never saw but two persons who were in that train afterwards. We would have gained time by going by the more traveled way, as we found the cutoff to be a mere trail through steep hills and so sidling in places was necessary for the men to hold the wagons on. I drove and it took all the men to keep the wagons in the road. Some of the hills were so steep that the women and children preferred to walk. But after at least three days longer than if we had taken the other road and it was much harder on the teams and the men we reached the Oregon Trail.
After leaving the cutoff we soon came to Boise and we all thought it was the prettiest town we had ever seen, tho in size it was smaller than our county seat (El Dorado, Kansas). It was June and everything green – yards irrigated, green lawns, flowers in bloom and I especially remember the rows of red currant bushes full of ripe berries. After leaving Boise the land was mostly covered in sage brush. Here and there a farm, cleared out, where now is a wonderfully productive claim, thickly settled, well watered country.
One night soon after that we camped on the Payette River and noticed a board nailed on a tree with something written on it to the effect that mosquitos were more prolific and of greater size than anywhere in the world, some species weighing two pounds. I’ll not vouch for that last statement, but do know they were thicker and more aggressive than I saw anywhere else – in fact no one slept much. We closed the wagon covers as tightly as possible and built smudges but nothing helped much. It was Saturday night and it was our custom to lie over each Sunday. I don’t know whether someone told us or if someone reasoned it out but we loaded up and drove up on higher ground and there were no mosquitos. Father and I tried to fish – caught a few chubs but the mosquitos were too bad when we camped on the Weiser but we just camped there for dinner. We ferried over the Weiser, and on the 4th of July just 10 years from the day we ferried over the Missouri River into Kansas we ferried the Snake River at Washoe ferry into Oregon.
And that night by the light of the moon and music of a violin played by Will Pickens we danced in the dust of a campground. I can’t remember that I enjoyed it any though I am sure brother Will did as he was one who made the best of all situations. If I could have danced with the youngsters I’d left at home no matter what the circumstances it would have been bliss.
The road was very uninteresting from there to Baker. North Powder must have been built before that, but I have no recollection of it. Mostly sage brush. Baker City as it was then called was a small place but its few business buildings were good and I suppose are still standing. Union was the next town – a pretty little place and the Grande Ronde Valley was settled and had been for a good many years and was as it as now a beautiful valley. The road missed La Grande but went thru Island City and Summerville, which is at the foot of the Blue Mountains. It was a lively little town. Then we crossed the Blue Mountains on the old Thomas and Ruckles Road. It was a beautiful road. Mother found a few ripe huckleberries, which she thought were blueberries and we children hadn’t any idea what they were. We also found dew berries and picked plenty for dinner. Mother knew what they were. Also some black cap raspberries. All the wild fruit we had in Kansas were gooseberries, grapes and small sand hill plums and not many plums.
On the top of the Blue Mountains at the time was a very large abandoned hotel, which looked almost new. While we were crossing the Blue Mtns. Mother noticed a piece of silk handkerchief she had given Mrs. Yandall, a lady in our wagon train, tied to a bush. She thought Mrs. Y had tied it there to let us know that was the road they had taken. The hanky was an old soft one she had given to Mrs. Y when she had a sore eye. I think I enjoyed the trip over those mountains as much or more than any part of the journey.
We went from there through Weston and Milton to Walla Walla, where Father and Will left us to camp a week while they looked over Washington Territory. We camped in an orchard and as far as I was concerned it wasn’t a happy week. We had felt sure we would have letters from home as that was the last place we had told them to write to and had left that as a forwarding address at Pueblo and Ogden. We were disappointed in the town, as Walla Walla had always seemed to be one of the most prominent Western towns we read of in the papers. It was much smaller than so many of the Kansas towns and few good buildings. Clara made the acquaintance of some children and passed the time very well. I think I spent most of my spare time writing letters and looking for letters which never came. Now a letter comes thro in 4 days.
In a week Father came back and had found nothing that suited him. Will had kept the mule team and was working thru harvest. We went on with the one wagon, down the Columbia thru Pendleton first and Umatilla Landing, and Echo, thru deep sand and sage brush. Pendleton had the name of being very unhealthy – so many typhoid epidemics and such a large cemetery. Twice before we turned back about 3 miles East of Alkali (which now is Arlington) we had to buy water. One afternoon we actually suffered for water. On the Umatilla River I got in contact with poison ivy and it was the worst experience I’d ever had up to that time.
The weather was very hot and we felt pretty much lost and very lonely. Seemed as if we had all leant on Will. We camped over night in Grande Ronde valley with a young stockman who lived in the Palouse Country. He strongly urged Father to go over there with him – said we could live in his house that winter and he would use the bunk house, and said they were wanting a teacher for their school which be a subscription school and he could get it for me. That was some inducement to me – in fact a large one but Father decided to go on to Wallowa Valley where we had some neighbors from Kansas who had come a couple years before us and had written to us from time to time (the Musty’s). So we trekked on camping in the Wallowa Canyon the first night. Walter caught some white fish which we thought were delicious, never having tasted a trout at that time. The next night we camped on the river at the bridge at Lostine, the scene of the much talked of killing of John Hawk.
So many times I have wondered what our lives would have been if we had gone to the Palouse Country. I was some disappointed that we didn’t go. I still think the school had the greatest pull. Tho the young man was very personable, tho he was at least 30 and may be older – had a bag of provisions – Island City flour among it.
We got to our journey’s end about 3 o’clock the 8th of August, 1882. The valley looked so grand to us. Green and lovely, and all the settlers on upper Prairie Creek had such fine gardens – all hardy stuff. Mother was especially pleased with the country – as during her 10 years in Kansas she had missed her fine Minnesota gardens. In Kansas sometimes she had pretty fair gardens. I’ll never forget the big delicious sweet potatoes she raised some years. But there was nothing at all sure about your labor bringing you anything, tho it seems to me she usually had a great many nice tomatoes, tho I presume the drought prevented it some years.
Gypsy or no gypsy I did enjoy eating at a table, sitting in a chair, and I know Mother must have been pretty weary of the long camping trip. We visited with the Mustys (who treated us royally) for a couple of days then moved into what was called “The House in the Lane”. It was a house that the survey had left in a lane. It was a hewed log house, two rooms – a bedroom and living room + kitchen combined – a half window in each room. The bedroom was long and plenty wide for a bed (and then a little to spare) so we had a bed in each end, and had a bed in the living room. They were what were known as one legged beds – one side and the head was nailed fast to the wall making one leg all that was necessary. There was also a table and benches. Don’t remember about the stove, but we had one, tho some people still cooked on a fireplace. We lived there a few weeks – well until the 11th of November and rented the Sam Adams place on upper Prairie Creek.
I worked for Mrs. Asa McCully awhile – long enough to get me some clothes and school supplies. School began the latter part of October with L.J. Rouse as teacher – and to him I owe whatever education I got, as but for his encouragement I should never have tried to teach tho that had been my ambition ever since I could remember. Until we moved it was only half a mile across the field to the school house. It was moved later when the district was divided and the Pleasant Center school house built. It was the same school house which still stands and is used in the Prairie Creek school district. It had been built that summer and at that time had a partition across making a not very large recitation room in the back end – there were 108 pupils enrolled that winter. Murat taught the third reader class and from there down – and recited them in the recitation room.
(In speaking of the house in the lane I meant to say that the majority of Prairie Creek settlers coming for a few years about that time had lived in it until they got located)
The house we moved into on the Adams place was primitive indeed. Two rooms – the bedroom very small with a bed in one end and two bunks in the other. And a lounge in the living room. Had a fireplace and we had a stove. We may have brought it from Kansas. There was a half window in the living room and I believe a whole window in the bedroom – any way it was in the south side and I remember how brightly the sun shone in through it that winter. Had puncheon floors.
Things seemed very strange and different; tho it was still pioneer days in Kansas it was much more so here. I didn’t try to like the country or anything in it and must have made myself very obnoxious at times. There was a big class of grown pupils, several of them over 20 years old. The girls all wore big coverall aprons with long sleeves and the coarsest kind of shoes with rivets in them. I was very lonesome and homesick and didn’t try to be any other way. Clara and I soon made us some of the aprons and got the same kind of shoes. In fact they were the only kind of shoes one could get except very flimsy ones and we had to walk 2 ½ miles to school and with the sun going behind the mountains so early we were often after dark getting home.
I always liked school and soon became very much interested in it – and my teacher told me very soon after starting that if I applied myself to the best of my ability he was sure I could get a third grade certificate in the spring and he would insure me a school if I did. No kid ever studied harder. Sat up every night till eleven – as did Clara – and we had to be up early to get to school in time. The snow was very deep that winter – about 5 feet up at the Adams place. At one time 39 inches fell in three days and there had been a foot or more before that. The wind drifted it clear over the fences – just the stakes showing – the riders clear under. The logging teams kept the roads broken to the Roup saw mill and the snow held us up from there on. We didn’t at all mind the walk except when a fresh fall of snow came.
I had a seat mate who was as studious as I and I grew to like her very much. She was a sister of Johnnie Simmons and I think she must have been a throwback. She was so very different from any of the rest of the Simmons family and very bright. She was about my age but got married the next year and died when she was less than 25. At noon some of the boys often hitched up to one of the sleds driven to school by the pupils and as many could crowd in went across the valley to the P.O. at J.F. Riches’ store and got our mail. Letters were almost a month getting here from Kansas. Three weeks anyway. I had corresponded with one of Will’s particular friends, a boy I’d knows as long and almost felt as if he was an older brother. He died of spinal meningitis after 26 hours sickness, early in March and I received a letter from him and answered it after he had been in his grave some time.
There were a few neighborhood dances which we sometimes attended, but the folks didn’t approve of many dances and we didn’t go often except on holiday occasions. It was at the first dance I met my future husband, though if anyone had mentioned that at the time I’d certainly have been insulted. Outside of the fact of my broken heart I didn’t admire anything about him, except his hair, which was beautiful, laid in curls all over his head.
I went home from that dance and showed Mother and Clara how he danced. Will had taken me to the dance. He told me years later that when someone asked Murat if he didn’t want an introduction to me he said, “no, she is too fat to dance”. I was pretty plump but the fact remains that he was introduced to me and did dance with me so I tried to console myself with the thought that he just told me that as a “come back” at me for showing how he danced.
He was the main “male” attraction during that school and Mr. Rouse in speaking of it a year or two later said Lila Winters and I were the only grown girls in school who weren’t smitten with him.
Well I wasn’t, in fact I thought I disliked him mainly because the other girls hung around him so much and because he evidently enjoyed it. Then one of the girls told me that on one occasion he bugged his eyes out and pulled a face at my back as I passed him and a group of admirers. I didn’t doubt it and don’t yet as no doubt I had my nose in the air trying to show people contempt for such a frivolous person. By mid-winter I was having a wonderfully good time at some of the gatherings for a person whose heart was broken in bits. Tho I was still very lonely and homesick between times, and my main desire was to be able to teach and earn money to go back to Kansas. That March sister Alice and family came and hearing about all my young friends who missed me and especially how my erstwhile beau moped around and couldn’t enjoy anything since I was gone gave me quite a relapse.
I did get my certificate that spring and Mr. Rouse did get me a school – the Pine Grove district on Elk Flat. Most of the schools were taught in the summer. Wallowa County was still part of Union Co. And the county superintendent appointed someone in the valley to give the teachers examination. Albert Reavis gave it that year and out of something like a dozen applicants from Mr. Rouse’s school four passed – Frank Martin, Ed Rumble and I can’t remember whether it was Will Roup or Tom Rich (but I believe the former) and I passed. Tom and Will both passed the next spring at any rate. Sister Clara the next year made passing grades but she was too young. I began my school a few weeks before I was 17. I don’t know as there was an age limit – only Clara was small and looked like nothing but a child, which of course she was.
It was one of the most thrilling moments of my life when I had a letter from Mr. Rouse telling me he had secured me the Pine Grove school for me and that he had told them my qualifications and for me to send in my application at once, which you may be sure I did, and he further stated that if I hadn’t gotten my certificate already I would in a few days as he had seen the list of those who passed. I remember so well getting my mail that day. I went down the road a little ways and climbed up on the stake and rider fence and read it.
This is Oct. 22, 1943 and if has been over 1 ½ years since I’ve written in this book but I do want to get myself down from the top of that high fence, which was no place for any circumspect young prospective school ma’am – no, not in the 1880s, when teachers were supposed to set an example for all the young and were watched by the country side at large. I think I must have overdone the part as my good old teacher after I had taught my second term started calling me Miss Dignity quite frequently, with that amused twinkle in his eye which I so well remember yet.
Another long lapse and this is September 26th, 1946 – and I decided to write some more, tho it may not be much tho my health is much better. After climbing down from the fence with more haste than dignity I hurried across the pasture to sister Alice’s where the folks were waiting for me with the wagon, and told them the wonderful news. I had a reply from the school directors right away – I was to receive the munificent sum of $25 in cash per moth and my board. In other words I was to board around. I had begun to get my wardrobe ready. Sister Alice helped me with the sewing in return for my housework. She owned a sewing machine which wasn’t usual at that time. I often wonder what the school ma’am’s of later years would have thought of my meager outfit. But very few at that date had much better so it didn’t bother me much, and on a bright April morning I bade the family adieu and brother Will took me to Joseph to take the stage for Elk Flat. We stopped at noon for dinner at a farm home – they fed the passengers and stage drivers and kept the stage horses. Their name was Haun and there are descendants of that family still in Wallowa Valley.
It was 50 miles from Joseph to a hotel on Wallowa River where the stage stayed overnight. They changed horses there, also at Haun’s. It was 4 miles up a steep rocky hill to my destination. The hotel was just below where the Minam empties into the Wallowa River. I was to stop at Mr. Bartlett’s (one of the directors). They were nice people, had two little girls – and they were leaving in 6 weeks to go back to their old home in Missouri – and told me I was very welcome to stay there as long as they were there. I had I think 28 pupils, and I think I got along as well and taught as good a school as most children age my age would. Anyway, my whole soul was in it and I did my best – but was a very homesick, lonesome girl.
I received a number of letters from Murat during the summer and was glad enough to get them and answered them.
After I’d been teaching several weeks I met a women who had been in our wagon train. I had gone to the P.O. for my mail and she was there for hers. We were both very glad to meet each other. She lived in the adjoining school district and she asked me to come to her house next week and I did, and it helped wonderfully just to meet someone I had known before. I had liked her quite well. She had showed me how to crochet lace. I never had made lace before but had made mittens.
She wanted me to come every week end but I wouldn’t go that often but did go a number of times – and always enjoyed it. Every one attended Sunday School and church and midweek prayer meeting.
Capt. John Cullen, who lived to be over 100 years old, was the minister (M.E.). I attended regularly. People all over the country attended church then. In the Wallowa valley the school houses would be crowded both for the morning service and in the evening, and people would be much better now if the custom still continued.
After my school closed I went home. Mr. and Mrs. Reasoner – the people who were in our wagon train – took me home and a Christian minister rode in with us. He held a six week revival the next winter at our school house and Rev. Pickett, a 2nd Day Adventist, also held a revival and there were 41 baptized one Sunday in Prairie Cr. They had dammed it up with snow to make the water deep enough. It was just above the old Tom Roup house where Fred McClain’s now live.
That was a very happy homecoming to me. I never can forget how Clara had grown up during that summer. Will and Julius worked on the R.R. (Jim Hills) that was being built across the Grande Ronde valley that summer. In speaking of Clara I meant to say I thought she was about the prettiest girl I’d ever seen – with a complexion like a baby’s, and the merriest kid imaginable.
In the fall I went to school to Mr. Rouse again. The folks had moved to a place about a mile south and a little east of the Adams place. It was mostly timber with here and there an opening. Will and Father built quite a good log house with more room than the one we had lived in on the Adams place. Father bought 6 two year old heifers. They lived there two years but the soil was not adapted to raising a garden or crops. We walked to school over three miles that year and Will worked again at Ed Roup’s saw mill logging and got up promptly at 4 each working day and called us as soon as the fire was built. We left Mother and Father in bed most mornings, and again Clara and I sat up until 11 night studying. She and I did the washing after supper nights, except the colored clothes, as Mother was not very strong. We ironed and cleaned the house Sat.
Will Roup, Ed Rumble, Tom Rich, Frank Martin and I and I think Clara took two extra subjects that winter and recited them to Mr. Rouse during the noon hour and recess. I don’t think I ever learned so much in the same length of time as I did that year. Murat did not help teach that year and was not in school, but hung around our place considerably. He and Will and Jim Beals batched together that winter and as all their last names began with B they called their abode the Bee Hive.
I went with Murat occasionally; tho I received frequent letters from the boy in Kansas and answered them promptly and was always quite homesick after getting a letter. That summer I taught from spring until Sep. 25th in Diamond Prairie Dist. – west of where Wallowa now is – just across Bear Creek. There had been no school for 2 years and the children were eager to learn and they surely did, I never enjoyed a school more. I boarded at Mr. Chamberlain’s. They had 9 children, 6 of whom attended school. And the Maxwell family had 9, 7 in school which made the better half of my 25 pupils.
I’d like to meet some children as obedient and good natured as the Maxwells and Chamberlains were. Their mothers were sisters. I had started in boarding with a family who lived on the homestead where Wallowa now is, but I didn’t like the “set up” at all and Mr. Rouse came down with his team and buggy one Sat. afternoon and took me up to Judge Weasley’s on Alder Slope to spend the weekend with my friend Anna Cullen who was staying there. I hadn’t mentioned disliking my boarding place but on the way up he told me that the woman was not the kind of a woman I should be boarding with and said he would take me to Mr. Chamberlain’s and he thought they would board me – that they were splendid people so next evening he took me there and they had been feeling pretty sorry for me. I was practically starving – she wasn’t even clean. I spent a very nice summer – was home twice – once rode one of their horses up on Sat. And stayed till Monday and was home the week of the 4th for whole week. And Clara was down once a few days. I didn’t correspond with Murat. Had made up my mind to quit going with him at all and told him so the first time he came after school closed.
That fall Mr. Rouse wanted me to come to the Cove and attend school as we didn’t know what sort of a teacher we would have at Prairie Cr. My folks wanted me to go so Will took me our as Mr. Rouse was teaching there and everyone knew he was one of the best of teachers.
I worked for my board at Mr and Mrs. Doney’s. They were boarding Anna Cullen and Mr. Rouse and her brother lived with them. Also part of the time his brother, John. Her brother was Robert Cochran. They had a 3 year old girl. Anna was teaching the lower grades. Madge, the little girl, and I mutually adored each other in short time. As the winter before I took a couple of extra subjects. There was a large school and several pupils in their 20s. In those days a good many of the larger girls and all the larger boys had to stay out of school during the summer terms. So were quite old when they were ready to quit school.
I studied and recited the extra subjects after supper. I have always thought that was the happiest winter of my girlhood in Oregon. Soon after school began Mr. Rouse told me if any one whom I didn’t think was the right kind of a person to go around with asked me to go with them I could tell them I’d promised to go with him, but to go with anyone I thought was all right. In case I didn’t any an escort he and Anna and I went together, but often I did go with someone else. But before I’d been there a month I began going steadily with Will Bloom, a school mate 2 years older than I. He had a lovely team and cutter and what was better, tho at first I didn’t think of that so much, was he was one of the nicest boys I’ve ever known and after so many years I still thought he was, tho I never was in love with him, but tried my very best to be and liked him very much as a friend. I didn’t write to Murat, although as a hint he had given me a fancy pen holder when I saw him at a dance the night before I left. I stayed in the Cove the next summer and taught in the room Mr. Rouse had taught and Anna Cullen taught downstairs. Had a very nice summer. I didn’t board at Doney’s, or Anna didn’t, and I didn’t see Mr. Rouse until I had come back to Wallowa Co.
The Cove is beautiful in the summer. I had thought if I had the chance I would marry Will but didn’t want to be married until I was 21. I was 19 that spring – but when Will asked me to marry him I felt that he was too good a boy to marry anyone who didn’t care for him in any but a friendly way. He is the only man who my conscience ever troubled me about. He married when he was 30 and I always hoped he was happy. He was only 43 when he died of pneumonia. I never was sorry of my decision. I still corresponded with the boy in Kansas. He wrote some quite violent love letters when it was too late. Time and distance had caused things to go wrong some way.
That fall I stayed with Alice quite awhile and her little girl Birdine, who died, was born.
I’ve always thought Murat and I would probably never have been married but for something Will said (and he wasn’t in favor of us marrying) – he drove Murat’s team down to Joseph to meet me Sunday a.m. when I got home from the Cove. I had come in to Joseph on the stage which had been very late that Saturday night. Sunday there was something at the school house and Will took me there and on the way up he said, “Laura Davis has been going with Rat and said she always knew she could take him away from you if she wanted to – I’d just show her she was wrong”. Well I did. He took me home and we began going steadily together. I often think how slight a thing sometimes changes one’s life.
Well this may sound maudlin but I was much interested in my mother’s life – even her love affairs. She was engaged to a young man when she came to America – but of her own self decided not to go back, but she often dreamed of him and told us only 2 or 3 nights before her death she had dreamed of seeing him. She always said she thought she did the right thing. He was a Catholic.
That fall we became engaged – November 29th, 1885. Next spring I taught the Hurricane Cr. School and had a very large school, 53 enrolled, and my salary was $40 per month, which the superintendent told me was more than any girl teacher in the Co. was receiving – but I surely earned it – for the first 2 or 3 weeks I could not manage to get all classes recited by 4 o’clock but finally got things under control.
July 31, 1947.
That May Mother had a very bad spell of pneumonia, which for her was the beginning of the end. She recovered from it apparently and looked quite well. I had found her sick when I came home one Friday evening. I wanted to send Walter down to Hurricane Creek to tell them Mother was sick and I could not come that week but she being Mother and being so unselfish said she would be better by Sunday evening and she did seem better. But I felt that I should not go and I still think in all probability we would have kept our mother for a good many years longer. She always thought of everyone else before herself.
We got a 17 year old neighbor to stay and do the work. Clara was teaching at Platt Dist. Will had gone to La Grande to meet Pete Beaudoin and his bride and bring them home so none of the family were with her except Father and 13 year old Walter. There were no phones and I worried and Thursday afternoon Jim Beals came for me. He said she was very sick and they had had the Doctor who said it was pneumonia. Drs. in our family had been few and far between so I knew the gravity of her illness. When I saw him drive up I shook so I could hardly get to the door. She looked so sick and I felt terribly alone. Father wasn’t a very good hand in sickness. I had stopped at Joseph and got lemons and a few things and the first thing she wanted was lemonade. We had a very cold spring. The house was in an awful state and she seemed so glad to have me come. I had gotten her promise to send for me if she was worse. I can’t remember how many days before Will came – 3 or 4 I think – and how relieved I was to see him. He started some joke about the newlyweds when I went out to meet him, but stopped in the middle of it to ask what happened. Clara rode 10 miles or more to school and back for about a week. The neighbors were very kind but Will wouldn’t trust her to anyone but himself and Clara and me. He sat up all night for several nights, then half a night, and Clara and I the other half. We sat up until midnight and he got up then, said he did mind it was just like getting up early. She was well enough so I could go back to school after missing two weeks and part of one.
She said she didn’t know until she got sick how much her children thought of her, and I felt pretty bad to think she had to come so close to death to find that out and have shed tears over it a good many times. After my school closed I stayed home with her and Father and Walter all fall. Clara’s school was not out – hadn’t begun till May. And I’ve always been thankful that I had that time with her.
Alice and her family had moved to Pendleton that spring, or she would have been a great deal of help during her illness.
Murat was in Grande Ronde working and Walter and Father were away working some (perhaps Walter wasn’t). Anyway, those weeks were very peaceful and full of content. I remember how much she sang that fall. Mostly hymns, a favorite at the time was “There were ninety and nine” and I remember her singing a song – “Minnehaha laughing water”. It was composed after the Sioux Massacre.
The G.A.R. were to have a big doings at the old Rich stable in November. A potluck supper and a dance after. We could hardly ever get Mother to go anywhere but church or something at the school house and Clara and I were so pleased because she was going. We had planned what we were to take. One item was English currant pie which I thought she could make better than anyone. But on the evening of November 15 she took sick chilling. The Dr. told us after that she had lost one lung in her illness in May and he held little hope from the first but she got up sooner than before and for 3 days had sat up most of the time and had knit her only Grandson Willie Balter a pair of double mittens during those three days. On the evening of November 27 the other children had gone to literary and Father and Mother and I were alone. I had been reading to Mother, who was lying down. Father had said for me to bring a lunch in and we would eat it in front of the fireplace on a stand. When I had it ready Mother got up and I helped her to her rocking chair which was by her bed and she fainted. She came to a few times and talked some. Father wanted to go to Morley’s for brandy and I said I could go faster and started out without a coat bare-headed thro the snow and wind. She said, “put something on, my child” and I did. Those were the last words I ever heard her say.
She was gone when I got back and had told Father, “it was death”. Her poor heart had given out. It was the first death we had ever realized in our family and no one who hasn’t lost a dear mother can ever know what it is. We children were all at home until early spring. I taught at Liberty Dist.
Father was lonely, and there was no stone work here. The move to Oregon had been a very bad move for him and on the 20th of July he left for Kansas to visit sister Jessie. He was very sick after getting there – had erysipelas but recovered and there he could find plenty of work in his line.
That was the summer of 1887 and in November 1888 while working in Kansas City he took pneumonia and died alone in a hospital. Was only sick a short time.
When my school was out at Liberty Will was gone over the mountains to work in harvest, so Clara, Walter and I were alone at home. Murat was harvesting in Grande Ronde valley. We were somewhat worried about the coming winter. Will, never much of a hand to write, hadn’t written. We had some livestock and hay in the barn. I had promised to teach the Pleasant Center school. The Prairie Creek district had been divided and the schoolhouse moved to the west half of the district, and the east half built a new school house – Pleasant Center.
Murat came home about the 18th of August while the threshing machine, which he was working, was being repaired. And of course he thought if we were married it would smooth out all the difficulties of the coming winter. We were married on August 21, 1887 and he went back to work the 28th. When he came home late in October we moved to his cabin on the Divide. Clara went with us and Walter stayed with Alice to be near school.
Will wrote he was coming home and came about the time my school began. Of course not having written for some time and we not knowing where to write it was some time before he knew Father had gone. He and Walter and Clara lived on the home place. I boarded at Mr. and Mrs. McClain’s and Murat took me out Monday mornings and came for me Friday evenings.
I had been warned against taking the school as there were a number of large boys and the school had a very bad reputation. Jim Halsey wouldn’t sign my contract – said no girl could handle that school. For several winters they had hired the Burleigh boys, Jim + Bill – one at a time of course – and they had whipped the boys brutally.
Well I never had a better school or one that gave me less trouble, and today all the boys of that school who are still living are my staunch friends. I never enjoyed a school so much, and the superintendent who had just made a round of the schools said at the Teacher’s Institute that I was teaching the best school in Wallowa County. He had spent a half a day at my school.
March 27, 1949. The above sounds to me somewhat like boasting but I haven’t much but my teaching to boast of – it is the only thing I feel that I did well.
We lived on the Divide 6 years, and our two sons were born there. Lynn on December 30th, 1888 and Kenneth May 15th, 1892. I said they were both born there but I went out to sister Alice’s to stay and he was born on Prairie Creek. Our six years on Divide were very hard years. Times were very hard and so little money to be had. In looking back it seems my baby boys. The winters were very severe – so much snow and hard wind. Two of those winters the snow formed a drift, just south of the house, but left bare ground for 8 or 10 feet next to the house with a straight wall of snow which came up higher than the kitchen window, and one winter the well drifted under – the curb was very low with a lid that shut down so it was hard to locate and we melted water for house use. I think a spring in willows near the barn was open and the stock got water there. Must have been about 6 weeks we melted snow.
Grandpa Blevans and Murat cut cord wood and Murat hauled it to town and got $3.50 per cord for the very best pine or fir wood.
In the summer of 1888 Murat and John went away to work in the harvest. Murat in Grande Ronde and John in the Palouse country. Clara and John had been married in the spring and she and I were alone all summer – and it was a very lonely summer. Not a house in sight, and the nearest one was more than a mile. We had always been used to going to S.S. and church and to everything there was to go to, and to seeing someone every day – but we didn’t even have a saddle horse and if we had were neither in condition for much horseback rising. We had the best garden we ever had on Divide, had two milk cows and the week days were not so bad. But Sundays seemed endless.
Our house was a log cabin of peeled logs and new and clean. It only had half windows but I put a blind up to make it look from the inside like a whole one and put full length curtains up. There was a very large lumber kitchen built-on east of the log cabin. We had a bed in one corner of it and one in the living room. There was a fireplace and in the summers the Divide is a lovely place to live. I had a sewing machine I had bought the summer before and we had much sewing to do – at that time no one bought ready made clothing.
The first part of the summer neither of us had felt very “robusting” but later I never felt better and we could have taken long walks but Clara could not stand much walking. We went to our nearest neighbors (Mrs. Burnell) once for the day. Alice came sometimes but we didn’t see many people during the summer.
End of writing.
Jennie Beith died on October 5th, 1955 at the age of 89.