The Souvenir of Western Women/A Grandmother's Story of Early Days in Washington
A Grandmother's Story of Early Days in Washington
IN the spring of '53 I started with friends across the plains, a long, tedious trip, but by no means uninteresting to a girl of 20. October 22 we arrived at Mound Prairie, in Thurston County. We moved out of our wagons into a bachelor's cabin of one room for ten. We partitioned it off with wagon covers into several apartments.
The first party I attended was during the holidays of '54. There were six besides the host and hostess. The supper consisted of beans, ginger bread and coffee, eaten in a little side kitchen without any floor. Our host and hostess of that evening are now living in Portland, Oregon, and are very wealthy society people.
I was told that if I would get married I would get 180 acres of land, so, of course, I got married and got my land.
Wheat was $5 a bushel, and everything else in proportion, but we never went hungry. On our farm we built a neat log cabin. We had a bed, stove and a few dishes, but that was all. There was no furniture to be had. My husband made a table of split boards, and I went to work making stools, which I cushioned with moss and covered with oil calico. I made a rockingchair out of a sugar barrel, cushioned and covered in the same way. Cupboards and other conveniences I also manufactured. T was very proud of my new home, so simple and plain. In it I entertained all kinds of people, rich and poor, preachers and lawyers, when I had but two rooms to cook, eat and sleep in.
The spring of '55 the Indians east of the Cascades broke out, so the neighbors decided to build a fort. By the time it was finished word came that the Indians were coming on this side of the mountains, and we hastened to the fort, where we stayed sixteen months. There were thirty families, which included all the people from Centralia to Bush Prairie. While in the bastion we had preaching and Sunday school every Sunday. We lived as close together as we could, there being just a partition between us, and none had a falling out. I suppose we were afraid the Indians would kill us, and we wanted to die in peace with all mankind. As soon as the war was over we returned to our homes.
We had grand, good times in those days. We did not have many neighbors, but what we did have were good and kind.
The summer of '58 we concluded to go to Gray's Harbor. We sold all our household goods except what could be put into canoes. It took two weeks to go to Olympia and return.
The first quarterly meeting held in our county was at Wynoochi by Elder Doane and the pastor. Rev. Franklin. There were only four communicants, but we had a good meeting. We drew very near to God that day.
The first Fourth of July celebration in the county was on the slough just above Cosmopolis. There were about twenty persons in all. We took our baskets and babies and boarded a large scow with Old Glory floating on the breeze. The eagle screamed and we sang patriotic songs and had such a good, jolly time. The next celebration was at Father Smith's. I shall never forget that Fourth. Early in the morning Mrs. Scammon and children. Mother Byles, myself and children got into a canoe with an Indian to row, and started up the river to the Melville Slough. There we got out and carried our babies, with the help of the Indian. We would take one at a time part of the way, put it down and go back for another. The bushes were so thick we could get but one through at a time. I had four children and Mrs. Scammon had four. Finally we reached Father Smith's.
We had a sumptuous dinner with a great big cake baked in a milk pan, with frosting and red candy over it. It was made by Father Smith. We had strawberries of his own raising. The table was set under the oak trees, for the house was too small for us all to get in at once. John Medcalf came riding an ox with the Stars and Stripes afloat from its great horns and John blowing a horn. There was a fiddle, and John played while Father Smith and John Brady danced. We sang patriotic songs and squealed the eagle hoarse, but we had no smoke, as there was no powder. Those were memorable days. How happy we were, for we had everything in common. Late in the afternoon all went their own way and took to the brush to find their canoes. When we got to the slough, behold the tide was out." "Tide waits for no man." We had to sit down and wait for the return tide.
The first election was at Westport. I told my husband I wished to attend, so we started very early in the morning with Messrs. Arch, Campbell, Karr, Milroy and Young, myself, husband and babies in a large sailboat. We had smooth sailing until we got opposite James' Rock, when the tide left us. We would have to wait for the tide, so I said I had rather wade out the half mile to James' cabin than to sit there for six hours. So the men took a baby apiece and started for shore. My husband and Mr. Karr wished to carry me, but I prefered to wade, so took their arms and stepped out, sometimes knee deep and sometimes waist deep, but I made it. On reaching the house the difficulty was in getting dry clothes Mother James and her daughter being very small and I very tall. But I got into Mother James clothes, and I'd give a dollar if I had had my picture taken. My dress just came to my knees, and the stockings just touched the hem of my dress. After we got through laughing I put my dress out to dry. The boys all sat in the sun till they dried off. When the tide returned we started for the polls to vote, but after all they would not let me vote. Don't tell me that women can't go to the polls.
The spring of '60 my husband went to the Salmon River mines, having lost all we had. I was left all alone with my children, without a neighbor nearer than ten miles except Edward Campbell and Mr. Karr.
The first time I was at Montesano I came up the river in a sailboat. Mother Medcalf and her son John met me at the river with an ox cart. John walked in the mud up to his knees and we had to lie down in the cart to keep the brush from pulling our heads off.
After my husband returned from the mines we concluded lo take a homestead up the river. My husband and his brother-in-law had been "baching" in a little log cabin on the place. When my husband came to visit me in our old home I said I was going up with him. He told me the house was too small. "That makes no difference," I said; "where you live, I can live, and I am going," and I did. So on the 3d day of July we reached our new home. We put our things in the house, ate our dinner, then my husband returned to bring the cattle. I was left alone in the woods for three days, and a never-to-be-forgotten experience I had, with no lock on the door and holes in the chimney. Darkness coming on, I put the children to bed and sat down to read a chapter in the Bible. All at once the wild cats began to screech, the owls to whoo-whoo, and the wolves to howl. I jumped into bed almost frightened to death. I believe that was the only time in my life I wished to die. I just asked the Lord to take me and the dear little ones straight up to heaven before we were all eaten up by wild animals. Away in the night something began to pat, pat on the floor and make a squeaking noise. I just lay still, afraid to breathe. Next morning I looked to see if my hair was white. The next night I had the same experience. On the third day—Sunday morning— I looked out and saw a young man and a young woman coming. I said, "The Lord surely sent you," and I told them of my experience of the two nights before.
I proposed to sell my gold watch and chain for lumber to build a house. My husband seriously objected, but I said I would never wear a gold watch and chain and have no house. Soon after a man came along who had a sawmill, and 1 asked him if he would give we lumber to build a house for my watch. He said he would. We built a house and started to make a home, and were happy working and waiting.
People say to me, "What did you do for a doctor?" We worked hard, ate hearty, and slept sound. When we felt indisposed we took a tea, made of wild cherry and dogwood bark, and rested a while. The first doctor that came to the county was Dr. Casto. Then the people began to get sick, and they have wanted a doctor ever since.
I love pioneering. I look back to those days as being my happiest days. When I hear the newcomers growling about the old mossbacks not doing so-and-so I feel like Josiah Allen's wife: "I want to set down on 'em." I don't know how they would have gotten here if it were not for the mossbacks. God bless the old pioneers, and may they all go to heaven when they die. There are few of them left to tell the story. Some of us are left to see the wilderness blossom as the rose. I know it is evening time with me, my work is almost done. I am watching and waiting.