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The Home Within the Wilderness by Mildred S. Reeher (1954)
The Home Within The Wilderness
By Mildred S. Reeher (1954)
Self-Published, Call Number: History Room R 979.5 REE
To Max, Without whom this tale would never have been written.
The Home Within The Wilderness
To the child, Clarice, it had seemed as if this day would never come. But at last it had arrived, and the great adventure lay before her. She was only seven years, and had never been far from the little forty acre farm, near Centropolis, Kansas, where she had been born. But she had heard Ma and Dad talking about how they were going deeper and deeper in debt on the farm; and how much worse Ma's asthma was getting so that at times she could hardly breathe; and about this new place called Oregon where they had decided to go. Now they were really on the way! The farm and all the stock had been sold at auction, the debts had all been paid, and tickets bought for the long trip to the new home. As Clarice pressed her nose against the glass of the train window and watched the little town on the Kansas prairie grow smaller and smaller in the distance she felt no felling of loneliness at leaving, for Ma and Dad, her brother Arthur and her sisters Grace and Amy were all going with her into the new world. Only the little sister Eva, was left behind, and she was fast asleep in the village churchyard. It was the eighth day of April, in the year 1887.
Meet this little family, who were leaving everything they had known behind them, and were heading into the great northwest. The father, James Fremont Reeher, had born in Mercer County, Pennsylvania, on July 1, 1856; the mother, Jane Louise Allen, had been born in Palmyra, Tenaree County, Michigan. She had come to Kansas to teach school, and there she had met Jim Reeher, and married him on the day after Christmas, 1878. They had settled on the little farm near Centropolis, Franklin County, Kansas. Here on this farm five children were born to them: Clarice Civilla on April 25, 1880; Eva Josephine on Dec. 2, 1881. (she died of a fever when only three years old); James Arthur, on Dec. 28, 1883; Edith Grace on April 14, 1885, and Amy Anna on Feb. 22, 1887.
The prospect of a trip across the country with four children, one a baby only six week old, and with almost no money, might have seemed an insurmountable difficulty, but they were young and the lack of money did not worry them unduly. They could work, and there was always work to be done.
Coming across the country, the mother was greatly concerned, at times, about what kind of a place they might be going to. Kansas was a Prohibition state, but as soon as the train crossed the state line the saloons were thick around all the railroad stations, sometimes from three to six of them, and when the train would stop, the men would leave the train and dash into the nearest one for a quick drink.
They arrived in Portland without mishap, and with the help of a kind of woman, whom they had met on the train, got to the hotel where they were to stay the night. They must have made quite a procession as they left the depot. Dad was ahead, loaded with suitcases and baggage; Ma followed with the baby in her arms, Clarice had several small burdens, and the strange woman bringing up the rear with with Arthur and Grace, both of them crying from fear at the strangeness of the big city. But at last the little family was sleeping soundly, on real beds.
Bright and early the next morning they took the little "jerk-water" train on the last lap of their long journey, Their destination was to the little town of North Yamhill, a town of about five hundred people. After renting a small furnished house, the young couple had only five dollars left on which to live till Jim found something to do. Unfortunately for Jennie's peace of mind, their new home was very near the only saloon in town. Times were hard that year and several men had told Jim he would not be able to find any work. But the next morning, after the family was settled, he started out to see what he could find. Jim was a sociable man; he liked company and to laugh and joke and tell stories with the men, and as the hours passed and he did not come home, Jennie began to fear he was at the saloon, which seemed to be the principal meeting place for the men of the town. He had never been a drinking man, except for a glass of beer once in a while, but then and there Jennie decided that if he began going to the saloon, she would take the children and go back to Kansas just as soon as she could save enough money. While she was conjuring up all those depressing thoughts, he came in, smiling at his success, and said that he had a job, and was late because he had been buying rain clothes and rubber boots to keep himself dry.
When he told the men around town that he had a job, they all wanted to know what he could possibly have found to do. "Digging ditches for a farmer, at a dollar a day and board," he replied. "Huh!," said one man, "I wouldn't dig ditches for anybody, especially in this kind of weather." But Jim replied that work was work. Mr. McLaughlin's farm was close to town so Jim was able to come home each night.
Jennie decided that she must help care for the family in some way, so she planted a large garden, and since there was a big barn on the place, she bought a dozen hens. From them she raised a brood of chicks, and sold enough eggs to buy most of the groceries. When they moved from Yamhill she sold the hens for as much as she had paid for them.
How she loved this beautiful state of Oregon with its mountains and its abundant water. In Kansas they had been hauling water for over a mile to water seventeen head of stock. On the train, as they came through the mountains where the Cascades fell, and through the Columbia gorge with its falls and the beautiful river, she kept saying to herself, "This is the place for me. Water, and plenty of it, soft soft water." Only one who has lived in the Middle West, where all the water is hard, can realize the blessedness of pure soft water.
And the fruit@ Such quantities of it! Never had the family tasted such plums and prunes. The tomatoes seemed hard and sour. They really were a quite different fruit from those grown where days and nights are so hot. The cabbages and the potatoes were so sweet and good that she ate so many she gained about fifty pounds that first year. But, magically her asthma seemed to have departed.
Jim heard of homesteads to be taken in Tillamook County and they decided to move there in the fall. He had done well on his job, and they had saved enough to pay for the moving. The farmer offered him three dollars a day and a warehouse job if he would stay, but he wanted land with trees on it. So in October, 1887, they hired Mr. Dudley, with a fourhorse team to move them to Tillamook. They went by teh Trask River road, and stayed over night at a ranch on the way. They had a cow, and Jim walked and led her. It was raining and the wind blew hard. Newly fallen trees were across the road, and when they would stop to saw out the trees, Jennie was fearful that one might fall on the wagon, and was much relieved when they reached Tillamook in safety. They rented a house, and almost immediately Jim found a job in a logging camp, at thirty dollars a month.
Tillamook was a friendly little city. It was wide open; there was no church; and all day Sunday there was an especially bit time going on. Jennie soon found other people in the town how had been church members, and they decided to have a Sunday School. One Sunday morning a big meeting was held in the schoolhouse. Because there seemed to be no one else willing to start things off, Jennie presided at this meeting. She was greatly surprised when the folk wanted to elect the genial saloonkeeper, Mr. Hadley, as the Sunday School Superintendent.
Everybody liked Mr. Hadley. He was one of the kindest and most pleasant of men, and he kept his saloon a decent place in a logging community. He would not accept the superintendency so someone else was elected. But as long as the Reehers where in Tillamook there was a Sunday school.
There were no butchershops in town. Everybody got big pieces of meat from the loggingcamps when they butchered. Evidently the man who got the meat was not a butcher, for by accident, he got the Reeher cow, and butchered her for beef, which was sent to the logging camp at Hobsonville. She was old and thin, and must have been tough chewing. When the mistake was discovered he paid Jim twenty dollars for the cow. But now the family was without its milk supply until Mr. Blackwell let them live in his house, rent free, and milk his cow, as he was away a good deal.
Most of that summer of 1888 a cold wind blew in off the bay. The small house they lived in was draughty and cold. The man who lived in it before said that when they opened the back door, the flat-irons blew out the front window. And that back door was hard to keep shut; it was always blowing open. In May Jennie had pneumonia. James had been idle for weeks, as the camps were shut down for bad weather. He had just gotten a new job, and she felt she must get up and get him off to work, but it was impossible to get up. Jim called the Dr. who applied a mustard plaster. The neighbors were most kind to bring hot food and to care for the children.
Almost before she was completely recovered, the owner of the house needed it, so the family moved to a large house, with a second floor unfinished. It was here that "spooks" scared Jennie. The previous tenant had been addicted to crocheting lace with #10 cotton thread, and many large spools had been left laying around upstairs. The children loved to play in this upstairs room. In the middle of the night raps began on the floor, sounding as if something or someone was pounding on the floor with one of these spools. Jim was a heavy sleeper, and by the time he could be awakened the noise would stop. He insisted it was all her imagination, but after it had happened for several nights, Jennie could stand it no longer and said they would have to move, as the noises were getting on her nerves. Fortunately, that day a good neighbor came to call and on being told of the "spooks" laughed and explained all about the pack rats. Jennie had to put up with a lot of teaching about her "rappings."
That summer Jim and Mr. Frank Severance, the operator of the camp where Jim worked, went up Wilson River about twenty-five miles and located homestead claims. Jim took one about half a mile from the main river on the North Fork. It had a fine rich soil and a vine maple bottom. When he returned to Tillamook and described the fine big trees, the rich soil, and the abundance of water that would be all their own, Jennie longed to go and see it for herself, immediately. But a house must be built on the claim; there was little money to provide necessary equipment; a new baby was on the way, so she had to wait. About that time they received payment of around one hundred dollars from the sale of teh farm in Kansas, and Jim started to clear the ground and build a cabin.
He cleared a spot about two hundred feet square, falling a giant fir that was seven or eight feet in diameter. He had purchased a pack pony and built a rough shelter for it. One day the naughty pony, turned loose to graze, ran off up the trail to the valley, and though Jim followed him to Forest Grove, he was not able to find the runaway. This was a great loss, as he had to purchase another pack animal. This time he chose a mule, and on his return to the claim, started work on the cabin. He decided to make a good big cabin, about 30' x 12', partitioning off one end as a bedroom for the children, and the other for a kitchen. They themselves would sleep in the living room. The house was made of split cedar boards, placed lengthwise, and when it was done it was warm and comfortable. In spite of the jeers of his friends, who told him is was foolish to back in windows on mule-back, he put in six half windows, for he said he wanted plenty of light in the dark winter time.
This first tree Jim had cut to make room for the new home was over seven feet in diameter. They wrote to an old neighbor in Kansas and told him about it, and how when the tree was down they could not see over the log. The friend told another neighbor, "That Jim Reeher has got to be an awful liar since he went to Oregon."
About this time the school board needed the large house as extra school-room space, so the family had to move again. Mr. Blackwell, a kindly bachelor, offered the use of part of his house, rent-free, if they would care for it and do his few simple chores when he had to be away from home. This house was on the bank of the slough, and when the tide was in the water was deep and dangerous. The children had no yard in which to play and there was no fence to keep them away from the water, which was just at the foot of the hill on which the house stood. It was a great worry to the mother, as the children
go to the water. Being pregnant, and with her asthma having returned it was almost impossible for her to go after them.
One day a man stopped by and told her that the children would all be drowned, as they and little Burt Hutchins were all astride a log floating in the slough. What could she do? Just then a neighbor Mrs. Rittenhaus, came along, and seeing the situation, decided those children must be taught a good lesson and she was just the person to teach it to them. She grabbed up a stout pole, and went down to the edge of the water like an avenging angel, ordering the children to get out of the water right away and slashing at the water violently with the pole. The children scattered and ran for home, Mrs. Rittenhaus after them banging the pole on the ground and threatening all sorts of dire punishments if she every caught them in the water again. Needless to say the treatment never had to be repeated.
This house of Mr. Blackwell's is still standing on the hill above the slough, and a picture of Mrs. Rittenhaus in in the Pioneer Museum at Tillamook.
The town Doctor, Dr. Horace Patchen, was a fine man, full of life and enthusiasm. Tillamook was a sociable town and something was always going on. The doctor loved music, and organized a quartet to sing at one of the public gatherings. One of the young girls of the town had a sweet alto voice; an excellent tenor was found; Jennie sang soprano, and the doctor held down the bass. He had absolutely no ear for music, but he so thoroughly enjoyed singing that no one had the heart to tell him he couldn't carry a tune in a basket. The number they sang went off very badly, and after it was over he said, "Drat it! I never hit a single note." But nobody seemed to mind.
He also got up sparring matches among the young men, and during one of these he was hit on the back in such a way that he suffered a serious spinal injury from which he never recovered. He was very ill for a very long time, and because he was so well liked everybody was most sorry and did all they were able to make his life more endurable.
When school started that fall Clarice was one of the pupils. She loved school, and at home was always playing school and passing on to the younger children what she had been learning. One night, very late, Jennie was awakened by a child's violent crying, and found Clarice in the room in her nightgown, sobbing as if her heart would break. "Oh, mamma," she sobbed, "I was so happy . I went to the school house but when I went inside it was all dark and there was nobody there, and I was so scared." The mother tried to comfort her by telling her it was all a bad dream, but Clarice insisted she had been to the school, and to prove it she had in her hand a bottle of ink that certainly did not belong in their household. Finally the child's soiled nightie was changed for a clean one, the dirty little feet and tear-stained face washed and she went to sleep. But after that the mother always saw to it that the doors of the house were locked at night so the child could not get out and wander around again.
On All-Hallow's Eve, a new baby boy came to the family. The woman who assisted at the birth was an Indian mid-wife by the name of Mrs. Day. (She lived to be over a hundred years old, and an article about her appeared in the Oregonian. Her descendants still live in the Tillamook area.) The new boy was named Benjamin Harrison, after the Republican candidate for the Presidency of the United States, who was elected a few years later. A close friend and neighbor also had a boy about the same time and named him Grover Cleveland. The editor of the local paper published the news of two births with the remark that it was easy to guess the politics of the two fathers. Unfortunately, when Grover Cleveland was twelve years old he was accidentally shot in a hunting accident.
In December the family had to move again. The new home was the little tenant house on the Peter Brant place about four miles out in the country. Here the children had room to play safely, and the family spent several very pleasant months here.
Early in the spring of 1889 a party of men tried to build a road up the Wilson River. With volunteer labor they did actually brush out and grade several miles. Jim was working with them as he was anxious to get some kind of a road up to his homestead. One of the men was not used to the woods and liked to sleep away from the rest of the men, so he built his bed of leaves, fir boughs -etc- quite a distance from the camp. One night he was awakened by a bear sniffing curiously at him. He jumped from the bed screaming "Something is a' smellin' o' m," and ran for the refuge of the camp, much to the amusement of the whole crowd.
In April the house was done, the weather was fine, and Jim decided the time had come for family to move to the claim. He hired Bill Smith, an expert packer, to help move them. It was a lovely day, that twelfth day of April, 1889. The smell of balm and maple trees was in the air, the birds were singing and the heart of the mother felt full to overflowing with joy of the great adventure
Bill packed bedding on one small white mule till only his head and tail showed. Jennie was put up on a sure-footed little animal, with the baby in her arms and Amy behind her. Clarice, Arthur and Grace rode part of the way on another pony and part of the time walked along the trail. It was only a pack trail, that road up the river, and great logs lay across the path. They had been cut into only just enough for the pack animals to get over. Jennie held her breath and her baby more tightly when the mule would go over the logs with a great up-rearing and down-jumping that was certainly most up-shaking. But most of the time they rode easily and carefully. When the party would come to a ford in the river, Grace would be set up on the mule while dad would tuck Arthur under one arm, and Clarice under the other and splash across, with two childish heads bobbing over the water in front and two pair of childish heals kicking up behind.
One of the neighbors in Tillamook was also moving to their claim, but when the wife got as far as the first ford she turned her horse around and started back. "I've seen all of these woods I ever want to see, and not another step I will go. And back to Tillamook they went.
For the first impressions of the home in the wilderness we find the following in Jennie's memoirs, written a few years before her death:
"All the way up the trail I kept gloating over the beautiful home I would have; the fine vegetables and flowers I would raise. A bunch of rose roots was tied on the pack somewhere as were the seeds I had brought from Kansas. We camped over night in an empty cabin on the Colton place, as the trip was too long for one day, and the next morning early we were on our way. Mr. Severance had finished his necessary six months residence to prove up on his claim, so his cabin was empty and he told us we could use it until our stove and other things could be moved up, so we settled in there and were safely 'up the river.'
"In a week or so our stove and furniture arrived and we moved into our own home at long last. Our heating stove was a piece of sheet iron , an enlarged stove pipe with a door on one side, set in large square box of rocks and gravel. Our cookstove was taken apart and packed in on mule back. We had home-made tables, chairs and benches. A rocking chair was a great luxury when I finally got one."
"Our own home, our own trees, our own land, so fertile, so easy to cultivate, so much beautifully clear running water; all ours, the give of our country. On Sunday we walked around on the trails, admiring the great trees, the vine maples, the blooming dog-wood, with a great feeling of thankfulness and the joy of possession."
"I won't deny that the first time Jim went away to work, and I looked around the little cleared space, only a few rods square, with brush and trees close on every side, my children all too young to be companionable, and not another human being closer than a mile, a great sinking feeling came over my heart, but only for a few minutes. I liked people; and there were none. I loved to read and that first year on the homestead was made more endurable by a full set of Charles Dickens' novels that Mr. Severance left for me. We took the Weekly Oregonian, but did not get mail very often."
"James would work for a farmer in Tillamook for two weeks, then come home and clear land for a week. He dug up and raked smooth enough ground for a good sized patch of potatoes and vegetables. I also planted a bed of flowers, 10 x 12 ft. The government sent me the seeds for these flowers, new kinds I had never seen before. I enjoyed hoeing, and weeding, though there were few weeds - mostly wild plants. We set out a strawberry bed the next year and among the plants I found three clover plants and set them out down by the river. They soon spread to make a carpet of clover."
"The second day we were on the claim Jim said he would show me the river where I could fish. I had caught black bass in Three Rivers, Michigan and I longed to fish again, but it seemed to me I should never dare to go through that brush as far as the river all alone. I might get lost. Coming from the prairies of Kansas it seemed to me like a jungle and I feared a cougar might be lurking in every bush, I kept venturing a little further each day until by the time summer was over I could catch fish and go a mile from home after our two cows. Always, Arthur, my little boy six years old, was with me. He could follow the trials better than I could and his sharp eyes could discover any kind of tracks. We had a butcher knife with us one morning to cut bait when he said soberly, 'If we meet an elk, we'd kill him with this knife, wouldn't we, mother?' I smiled and told him elk were very shy and I did not believe we would meet any. We had along a little Scotch Terrier, very small but very bright. She would have scented a cougar very quickly and I always felt safer with her along."
"Elk were plentiful then. Our neighbor, Walt Smith, and Jim went hunting in the fall and got one, like a great fat beef. We salted our half and it was very much like salt beef."
"When we had come from Tillamook, I had brought along five hens and a rooster. They had been pretty much shaken up on the trip up the river on the pack horse, but soon perked up and rustled around in the bushes. So we had milk, eggs and garden vegetables. And plenty of trout. That fall I caught my finest twenty inch trout. They are rare, but alas, there was no one to show it to and to share the thrill with me. Such are life's tragedies."
Jim had brought two nice young cows to the homestead. When he was away from home it was up to Jennie to milk these cows. She had been born with a fear of cows and had never been able to overcome that fear. But the children had to have milk. Jim had made a corral and in one corner had built a sort of pen big enough to hold a cow. Some feed put in front would entice her in, then a bar was put up, and Jennie could reach safely through an opening in the side of the pen and do the milking. Sometimes the cows would not want to come home and Jennie would chase them around through the brush until her asthma would force her to stop and rest. One day they could not be found, and next morning, leaving nine year old Clarice in charge of the children, she started out early to search for them. About half a mile from home she saw a deer track in the trail and looking closer saw a strange, large track. She knew it was not a cougar, so turned back and went to a neighbor, Bill Smith, a mile away. He was a mighty hunter and he immediately called his dogs and started on the trail, while Jennie went home to her children.
Later that day he called by and told her the animal was a timber wolf that had been chasing a deer. He had found her cows in his brother's clearing. Somehow they had gotten inside the fence and couldn't get out again. As soon as he turned them out they came straight home.
During her first summer up the river she identified and pressed every kind of wild flower in the region. A friend in the east had sent her a book -
How to Know the Wild Flowers
. Those she could not find in the book she sent to
botany department for identification. She made booklets of pressed flowers and sold a good many of them.
The spring that was the source of their water supply was a fine sparkling brook, running into a trough. Pure, clean and cold the year round, the little stream hurried on its way to the river. Beside it a great maple tree and a wonderful shade to rest under from the summer heat. The stream went through the orchard and Jennie was sure that was shy they had such fine fruit. She held each fruit tree while Jim planted it: apples, pears, plums, prunes, several varieties of each, and a beautiful cherry tree that never bore any cherries. (The apples were completely free from the coddling moth and worms until after the big fire of 1933, when the moth was brought in on fruit from the outside.)
One of the most important of Jennie's possessions was a Medical book, one of the few things that had come from the old home in Kansas. Jennie read it most carefully and followed the rules in any case of illness among her family...
To be continued, or come on in to the Eric G. Stewart history room to read the rest in person!
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