Part of a series of interviews done by the Imnaha School Kids in 1987.
Interviewers: Blaine and Travis Bronson
Q. What is your name?
A. Armel Lee Duckett. Most people call me A.L. or Al, some call me Duck.
Q. How long have you lived in this area?
A. I’ve lived in this area since 1919. I was just back from the Service. My uncle, Sam Campbell and I walked to Imnaha from Enterprise in December or late November to go trapping. Before Christmas it got cold. -30 degrees, all our traps froze down. My uncle went to herding sheep. I was going back to La Grande, but another uncle, Neal Campbell who lived at the Bridge didn’t want me to. So I stayed. On January 1, 1920, I started working at the Imnaha Store and Post Office. I clerked and drove truck to haul freight from Enterprise. Bailey Maxwell owned the store at that time. I lived in the back of the store four years. The next summer I drove stage, it was a 1-ton Chevy truck. When winter came had to use a team and wagon part way, and a sled and team. You didn’t get any holidays, worked 6 days a week. It took 8 or 9 hours to make the trip one way. Made three round trips per week. The summer of 1921 I was blacksmith for the Imnaha Sheep Company. Late in 1921 I homesteaded five miles down river on a place Faulkner’s had settled, then Grady Miller. Grady Miller relinquished his rights to me when he went back to work for the Forest Service. When I quit the Imnaha Sheep Company, they sold me all the blacksmith tools for the sum of $100. In the fall of 1921, I opened a blacksmith shop where the shop is now. Later added hardware, garage and filling station. I built the new shop in 1929.
Q. How long has your family lived here?
A. My wife’s family was the first family, or her father was the first white settler on Imnaha, Jack Johnson. They lived where you Bronson boys live now. She was born in 1892 and lived at Imnaha until she passed away in 1978.
Q. What do you like about living here?
A. I have been a lot of places and had a chance to compare and when I come to Imnaha, I loved it. I was born in the Ozarks and living in the hills suited me.
Q. What was life like then?
A. A lot different from now. You worked from daylight to dark, you didn’t quit just because the clock said 6 o’clock. We didn’t have any electric lights, any automobiles or anything of that sort. But in some ways it was better. People weren’t so rushed, they had time to stop and visit.
Q. What was farming like?
A. We farmed with horses. I started working with horses when I was 6 or 7 years old. There were no tractors.
Q. What kind of equipment did you use?
A. All horse drawn, we had binders which cut and bound the grain. We had a mower and rake, and a stationery baler.
Q. What changes have taken place since then?
A. When the automobile came, it changed everything. You could get to town so much faster. The new road to Joseph in 1935 made travel easier. Then when we got gas service so could have gas cook stoves, refrigerators and heaters we thought we had it good. Then we got electricity in 1962. More recently we got television by satellite that solved our entertainment problems.
Q. How did these changes affect you?
A. They came about gradually. For a long time we had to use horse and buggy. So cars were the best change.
Q. Which changes affected you the most?
A. Some of the biggest changes that took place in my life was when I left Missouri and came to Oregon. I had worked on farms, not ranches. I cut corn for fodder. When I came to Oregon, I didn’t work on farms. I started work on the railroad company, in La Grande.
Q. What changes do you think will come to this community in the near future?
A. I’ve seen lots of small places but together to make big outfits. I think this has gone about as far as it can go. We may see it start to go the other way, with the big outfits selling off small parts making more places.
Q. What was school like when you first came?
A. The first school I went to for a very short time. The only reason I went was my sister who was two years older was going. I was five years old and that was too young. The teacher’s name was Mrs. Largen. The school was Jackson School in Jasper County, Missouri. She gave me a nickel to learn to spell cat so I know I wasn’t learning very much at school. I did learn to spell cat, that was the first nickel I ever earned. I only went for 2 or 3 weeks. The next time I went to school, I was nine years old. That was the next chance I had to go back to school, I worked then. That was a big school. The girls set on one side of the classroom and the boys sat on the other. They didn’t mingle on the playground either.
Q. What subjects did you study then?
A. We had reading, arithmetic, and writing. Also geography. If you finished one book you went on. We didn’t have grades to follow.
Q. Where did your family get their food?
A. We raised it on the ranch mainly.
Q. What did you do for fun when you were little?
A. When you worked as much as we did, it didn’t take much for entertainment. I started pulling weeds in the garden when I was 6 years old and we had to work. When we come to Jasper County it was a mining town. We raised vegetables to sell. We washed radishes, peeled onions, pulled weeds and worked right along with the others. After I came to Imnaha, we had dances and the Grange had socials.
Q. Are there any other interesting facts you would like to share with us?
A. There are lots of things. We didn’t have electricity until 1962. We had light plants. I had the shop, so repaired and serviced light plants and washing machines, etc. There was a lot of washing done before they had washing machines on washboards. They had dances and picnics, Fourth of July celebrations. Then they would hunt in the fall. In the country there’s always something to do, climb a hill or something. I was born in the Ozarks in 1894. The first Christmas tree I ever saw was in school when I was 9 years old. It was a big tree, they didn’t have evergreens there. It was an oak tree they tied cedar on the branches. They sharpened it and set it in a wagon wheel on the floor, and it would turn round and round. It had candles on it. The wagon wheel was fixed with trays in it from the hub out. It was filled with popcorn balls, candy and different things.