The Country Boy/Preface

The Country Boy 5.png


This book deals with just an ordinary boy, brought up, however, among people and conditions that were not ordinary. This little town of Silverton and the neighborhood around it were made up of men and women who had left the best sections of the Eastern States to go West that they might avoid the Railroads and conditions that followed them. Strange as it may seem one of the early settlers of Silverton had moved from Connecticut to Illinois to get away from the railroad, and later from Illinois to Oregon, and finally died in Silverton without ever having seen a railroad train. Such a statement might mislead some people into thinking that the man was a crank, but that was not the case. On the contrary he was a man of distinctive type, of much nobility of purpose, that had just happened in his early youth to imagine that he would not like railroading. And the people that followed his example were people of good blood and in some instances of high education and all in all they made up a fine average community. More than likely many small towns in New England two hundred years ago were like Silverton was twenty years ago, but a town like Silverton was then would be hard to locate nowadays, and the Silverton of to-day is in few respects like the fine old dignified town of even 1885. They were the pioneers and the first generation. To-day it’s different. The old Silverton was given a certain dignity by a very large and remarkably shaped old oak tree that stood in the center of the Main Street; how old it was no one knew but it had been the shade for the Molalla and Santiam Indians for unknown generations and was more than likely in the direct route of these Indians who went to and fro from the Council of the Great Multuomah Tribe on the Columbia River prior to the falling of “the bridge of the Gods.” The old oak, as everybody called it, was a stately giant, and the early settlers of Silverton looked a fitting people to group themselves under it and around it, and, as I have said, it was the superb character of both men and women that made Silverton, the old town, so distinctly different.

The tree and town were nearly all destroyed once by fire. A merchant named Alex Ross let a lighted candle brush against his beard and from his whiskers the blaze leaped madly into the lace curtains of his store window and one of the handsomest city blocks was soon burnt to the ground. The town then got a hook and ladder company, and a fire brigade was organized with a tower and a fire bell on top of it. Years passed and passed and the firemen grew older and less attentive at the annual fire drill. The fire department consisted of a hose, hook and ladder wagon with some fine axes with gilding on the blades, some long leather buckets, a long hose, and some fire helmets. Some ten years after the first fire another broke out, in the old brick store; possibly from a cigar stub as a man was seen smoking one that day in the store. At any rate the old store was first to burn. The department was hard to arouse as the fire started at 2 a. m. or thereabouts. Dr. Davis was awakened by the glare of light. He thought he had overslept and that it was sun-up. Fully awake he ran to ring the fire bell, but little by little the farmers had cut off the rope to tie their teams till it was out of the doctor’s reach. He threw rocks at the bell but was nervous and excited and only hit it once, so resorted to yelling “Fire!” on the principal streets until his voice gave out. Silverton was noted as a place to get sleep and rest in and the doctor was winded and hoarse before he awoke many of the old settlers. They found the hose gone, some one had borrowed it to irrigate his garden; the leather buckets were all gone. We had had one in our parlor for years with moss and “everlasting flowers” in it as an ornament, and the only things they found to fight the flames with were three of the company’s fire helmets, and these came in handy to keep off the heat, as a whole row of wooden buildings were on fire, to say nothing of 50,000 cedar shingles, and it was nearly noon before the fire burned itself out when it came to the sparse settlement. But the backbone of the town was there yet and the pioneers were not all gone. They would go on determined not to be stopped by a fire. In fact bluffs seldom got away with much there, and I can cite one instance that was truly Silverton in every sense. A “Campbellite” minister by the name of Clark Braden came there to conduct a revival meeting. He was a man of quite some force and reputation, and a big quiet audience greeted him at his first hearing. He got on all right until near the close when he issued a sweeping challenge to any infidels or free thinkers to debate with him in Silverton. His utterances had hardly cleared his beard when ten men at least were on their feet asking him if he would debate with Robert G. Ingersoll. The preacher said “yes with him or any of his disciples.” The meeting broke up with much excitement and promise, and within a few hours quite a long telegram, the longest ever sent out of Silverton was on its way East to Col. Ingersoll, and before long a brief one returned saying that Mr. B. F. Underwood was on a train for Silverton as a representative of Col. Ingersoll to debate for ten days with Rev. Clark Braden. They were to speak every evening, each man having one hour’s time. That was typical of the early founders of Silverton. No admission was charged, and the occasion was carried on with much dignity until the last evening’s debate when somebody started something, and when it was over several of the best families in town were on terms unbecoming to neighbors; but even this only lasted a few months and all the differences of a stormy night had passed. The manhood and womanhood that had brought them together during the hardships and trials of a pioneer life, in the covered-wagon days, had brought about a brotherhood that was after all too strong a bond to be broken by even religious whims and differences, and they were soon back together as one big family. All men and women who in their higher spiritual selves were even more religious in the truer form than the minister that had started the trouble, they were genuinely under the atmosphere and living in it that the old blind Arab poet described in his verse written during the eleventh century and saying, “when young, my friends I would defame, if our religious faiths were not the same, but now my soul has traveled high and low, now all save love to me is but a name.” I only cite this incident as it was so typical of the place and went to show that the older pioneers of Silverton could start on short notice without even a rehearsal. But, oh, how I loved, and still love Silverton.

I could never expect to find another such community. Where else could one find a firm like Coolidge and McClaine, starting in partnership without a bookkeeper. They never even kept a pencil account of things. When Jake McClaine saw his partner with a new pair of pants on, whether he, McClaine, needed any or not, he took from the store a pair just to balance the books, and that was their method. They played fair with each other, starting with some calves they bought in the fall of the year, and from that deal this firm grew and grew until now, incorporated into a stock company, it is one of the biggest on the Pacific Coast; and when “call money” rents for big premiums in New York City, money that started in Silverton with these pioneer bankers comes in large quantities to Wall Street to reap the benefit of the quick loan system. But the Silvertonites of old, Coolidges, McClaines, Davises, Browns, DeGuires, McGuires, Smiths, Tuggles, Blackerbys, Hibbards, Riches, Wolfards, Skaifes, Drakes, Ramsbys, Huttons, Thurmans and Simerals are getting thinned out, and in their places new faces from the middle west and south are coming. The first generation were not the stuff of their parents; conditions had changed, some of the younger men were bigger business men than their fathers yet they lacked a lot of a certain kind of character that made the fathers more interesting than any of their sons. The railroad and interurban trolleys change the conditions of things greatly, and Silverton has been no exception to this rule. The departure and arrival of the old Salem stage used to be an event, more than the trains coming and going to-day, but to me Silverton will always remain the same with no other memory second. I remember well my first impression of Silverton. I had come to town with my father and grandmother Davenport. It must have been when I was between four and five years old. We were stopping at the Coolidges’, father had gone on beyond Silverton to survey for Scott Hobart, and in the evening of a great day, as grandmother and “Aunt Frank” Coolidge sat rocking and visiting on the back porch, I got their permission to go on to the sidewalk some distance from their big house. I remember I was all dressed up with new little boots that had copper toes. I followed the sidewalk to the old covered bridge and finally ventured through it, and there saw a great city for once without grandmother holding me. I was in a trance of delight watching it, when a big handsome man, named Marshall Dudley, came up to me and in a bass voice, said; “Are you so and so.” I said, “yes.” “What then are you doing in Silverton alone? You get back to Aunt Frank Coolidge’s as hard as you can run.” I did and found to my horror that I had bumped a copper toe off one of my new boots somewhere enroute.

From that moment Silverton has always been to me the greatest city in the world. I saw in it that evening a dignity, possibly radiating from the giant oak tree, that no other place ever could have. Its people were so kind, its stores filled with such good things, and the scenery back of it so beautiful. And the roar of the water falling over the Mill Dam gave it a thrill never to be forgotten by me. For years it held me in that trance. It inspired me to draw pictures, and day after day, month after month I used to draw its people on the smooth surface of the pine boxes that brought dry goods to the town, and, strangely, many of them I mounted on fiery Arabian steeds, and the strangest part of Silverton is that it never releases me a day from its hold. A day never passes that I don’t hurry over its streets and see its last remaining pioneers, and in my vision replace those that have gone. I yet hear the roar of Silver Creek as it pours like a sheet of silver over the Mill Dam below the “old red shop;” then again I see it each day as the years go by as I first remember seeing it the evening I lost the copper toe from the new boot. I have thought of it while seated in the ruins of the Coloseum at Rome, thought of it in London and Paris and Constantinople, thought of it while resting in the death-like silence of the shadow of the Sphinx, and told of it near the Euphrates River in Arabia, while among the wild tribes of Anezeh. Even left its paper, “The Silverton Appeal,” among that tribe.

I have told people of this little town’s beauties till they have yawned and finally left in disgust, yet it holds me with a something that I cannot describe. Strangely I find that I have forgotten all the many rainy days, the boyhood fights and the neighbor quarrels. They with the petty pains and pangs of life have been forgotten, and while I know that some of my expressions of love for this little town have been misunderstood by the newer and younger generation, yet I am certain that the pioneers, the men and women that belong to the old oak tree, have all seen in every word I have ever written or line I have ever drawn pertaining to Silverton and the farmers around it, nothing but love. All the attention I have drawn to it in the past and any I may in the future was, will be, to benefit Silverton. My only regret is that we couldn’t have remained always the same as we were before the big oak tree was chopped down, as that tree seemed to fit into our landscape better than open or paved streets do. The tree seemed to be a center of dignity around which we could build, a tree with stories beyond the first white man it ever saw; and many a day when I have watched the leading citizens playing marbles in its extensive shadow, I have thought: How many are the interesting stories you could tell, of ages passed when you saw the beautiful deer and other wild game gather at your base, of the great pride you must have felt when the old cock grouse hooted from your moss covered limbs in the early breaking of spring and of the interesting councils of war which painted Indians in ancient days convened under your spreading old limbs. Who knows but what the great Snohomish, the chief and orator of the Santiams, made your shade a stopping place going up the Columbia to the great council? At last you saw the first white man and his ox team approach, and later make treaty and trade and war with the Indians; and at the very last, you find you have been chosen as the center around which men and women of the finest type build a beautiful little city that for a time nestled under your very branches for protection. You grew and spread and at last as a mother that had walked the floor nights with her babe, cared for it in storms, furnished a cool shade for it in summer, were now in the way. Your limbs had tried to climb into the upper window of one of your children’s stores. That was enough, a new element had come to town on a railroad, to make Silverton like other towns, so the giant tree heard its fate from a jury that were strangers. The tree might have called for help, but its real friends, the old pioneers, were away. Some of them each passing year had been driven by it, across the old covered bridge never to return, and others were out of town on their adjoining farms. The giant oak, the tree that had the beautiful stories to tell, was voted “guilty” and was slain. That evening as its huge branches were divided among the town’s people, a small party of big men gathered at the stump of the tree. They were mad men and sad men as they realized that Silverton had to change, that a newer element with higher collars and smaller hats was in command. Many of their best and bravest citizens had already gone beyond the call of human voice, others would soon follow, and the tree, being one of them, had, also, made obeisance to the demand of society, fashion and wealth. From that day the dignity of Silverton began to wane. Thus I shall not wonder after I write of and draw the beauties of dear old Silverton, as I have done in this book, if by some I am misunderstood; but I shall never desert Silverton; it is my home and always will be. To me the old oak tree always stands and under it the men play marbles. The pioneers and their families that made it so full of character are still in their prime of life, the first beautiful girl I ever saw is still there just as beautiful as ever, and in the streets I yet hear the latest marches by the old Silverton band, the stores are still aglow with rich beauties. That’s why I love it so dearly and that’s why it’s yet home to me.

Homer Davenport.

New York, June 17, 1910.