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Steve Jacobson

Biograph of Robert E. Peabody

The following is a self biography of my great uncle Robert E. Peabody. Published in the Chronicle-Dispatch, March 30, 1939.
Source : Pat Higley

A Sojourn in the Far West

Editor's Note: The following biography is R.E. Peabody's own story of some of the high lights of his life written by him March 29, 1924, upon his retirement as editor of the Columbia Chronicle. He called it his "Swan Song" because he knew he would never again address his public in the capacity in which he had been known throughout his business life here.

Maybe some of the subscribers of the Chronicle would like to know a few things about yours truly. To begin with I crossed the Missouri river in a skiff in 1857. I remember it well, I was eight months old.

The things that happened after that date until I was 16 years old I have decided to forget, for they were filled with the hardships of going to day school, getting 20 verses every Saturday for Sunday school, while the other boys were playing ball. They are too painful to remember with any degree of friendship for them. I quit that life as soon as I could walk without hanging on.

About the 16th of April, 1878 I came to Dayton. I had spent the night previous at the Star place on the Touchet and as the old gentleman Star came to town the following morning, he let me ride. Mr. Star was very generous for a man in those days, as he only charged me 75 cents for supper, bed and breakfast. I had 75 cents on my arrival and now somebody's got that. I may have given it to Ned Harris, Ab Taylor or sombody like that, anyway it's gone.

I had no intention of remaining in Dayton any length of time as I was on my way to see my uncle Tom Robinson and T.M. May fixed that up for me later. I had been working in Sacramento, Calif., on the Morning Record-Union and had about all the night work that I wanted for a time. I wanted to get outside. I was full of Malaria and that wonderful California climate that some of our wealthy farmers go down to absorb every winter. As soon as I struck the climate of Columbia county I felt better, and although like Dick Walsh, I haven't "growed a bit" in 47 years I have been getting better and better every day. I did not know Coue at that time, but the atmosphere of this country answered the purpose of his words, and filled me full of pep right away. I made up my mind that there were better climates than the Sacramento Valley at least, and have never had the desire to tempt providence in that state since.

When I landed in the young and bustling town of Dayton and was meandering about the streets reading the beer signs and other cartoons, I met T.M. May. He found out that I was a printer and asked me to help him get out the first issue of the Chronicle. I was glad to assist him and with the help of Tom Gale, brother of Henry Gale, the editor at that time, we "sweat blood" for a week and got out the first issue of the Chronicle on the 21st day of April, 1878.

Mr. May was business manager, Henry Gale editor and E.R. Burke solicitor and local reporter. In about two weeks Mr. May called me to one side and said: "the paper is now started, and I find that it takes considerable money to keep things going and if you don't mind, you can lay off for a while and go up and see your uncle Tom. Then if we need you, we can send for you any time." I looked to me like a cute way of firing me, so I took the hint and quit.

I started to the Alpowa country the next day with a school teacher, who had a team and wagon. He was going up on the Alpowa ridge to take up a homestead.

We traveled all day and camped that night near Pataha city in a small cove near the road and handy to water from the Pataha, which was then a pure mountain stream, clear as a crystal and uncontaminated by civilization.

We turned our horses out on the bunch grass for the night. They were cayuses and you know how they will do. They climbed to the highest point during the night, so as to get the first rays of the sun in the morning. The school teacher spent an hour and a half bringing them in.

We traveled the Lewiston road to the middle of the Alpowa ridge, where the teacher stopped and said, "Here is where we part. I go down the ridge and you go straight ahead towards Lewiston. You may meet some one who knows your uncle. He set me afoot. I have never had the pleasure of meeting him since.

I had two large suit cases, something I haven't had since and never wanted again. As I trudged along the road with a suit case in each hand. I was a complete imitation of a song and dance artist coming out on the stage to do a stunt. There was not a house to be seen in the whole country. What few there were, were tucked away in the gulches, where water could be obtained and could not be seen from the road.

I lugged those suit cases about three miles before coming to a settler's house. I believe it was the Sweeny place. I left my burden there and told the folks gleefully that I would call at some future time, not caring whether I ever saw them again or not. I kept on the toll road, and at the old Walker stage station and postoffice, I learned that a Mr. Robinson received mail there but the postmistress did not know which gulch the Robinson tribe lived in, nor had never noticed from which direction they came. This was at least encouraging. There was a clue to work on. I walked five miles up the creek to the old Ray Alphry place. He had not heard of the Robinsons; told me that there were some fool tenderfeet locating land on the ridges in every direction. He was hostile towards them and said their crops would freeze out in August. He was a cattle and cayuse man, and was on the warpath because the settlers were taking up his range.

After raging a while about the tenderfeet, he said, "there is a trail up that gulch over there. It is three miles to the top, and there is a farm house a mile beyond that. Maybe your uncle lives there. I don't know and don't give a dam." Otherwise he seemed to be a pretty nice old fellow. I got better acquainted with him later on and found out that he was really a big hearted, generous man, like many others I have met in this country.

I took the trail and it was so warm that day that the snakes were out sunning themselves on the rocks. A rattler tried to bite me and I hadn't even spoken to him. It seemed to me that even the snakes were peeved about the tenderfeet for taking up the range. I carried a club and was looking for him, as Mr. Alphry told me to look out for snakes. That particular snake never had any more trouble. Since that day I have come to believe, like old man Owsley, that I'm "fearder of a snake than airy other insect."

I found the house about sundown, and wondered if I would be asked to stay over night. I had made almost a complete circle from where I had left the school teacher in the morning and had walked about 25 miles. The new settler had not heard of uncle Tom, but advised me to stay all night and go up the mountain road to the Iron Springs in the morning. If my uncle was anywhere in that country he would have to go to the mountains for timber and somebody would know him.

I beat all the wagons on the road that morning and at the Iron Springs I was told that Mr. Robinson lived five miles down the ridge between the Alpowa and Powaukie gulches. I sailed right down the ridge and was going on high, when I happened to see a cabin to the left in a gulch. It was the place. Uncle Tom and his wife and ten children were there. One or two more in the family wouldn't make any difference, so I was given a hearty welcome. It was their first year on the place. There was a patch of rutabagas and few acres in hay. They had a cow that lived part of the time in the hay field and part of the time on the bunch grass. The dog was the busiest one on the place chasing the cow out of the hay field. There wasn't really much to do only to go to the mountain after wood and rails.

I discovered that Uncle Tom believed there was luck in leisure and was so firm in this belief that he sometimes worked it overtime. Maybe that is why I never had any luck, as I had no leisure to go with it.

All were waiting for harvest in the Walla Walla country. When harvest time came several of the boys and myself came to the lower country. We found hundreds of people camped in Dayton and Walla Walla, who had been driven in by the Indians. That was the year Chief Joseph went on the warpath. There had been a battle at Cayuse station in the Blue Mountains and Chief Eagan was killed.

In passing through Dayton I called on the Chronicle and Mr. Gale wanted me to stop and get out some job work for him, but I had lived on cottontail rabbits, and grouse for a few months and was to independent and wild to handle such trifles as type. I wanted to buck straw. I simply sniffed the office for a while, shook hands with big "A" and petted litte "i" and then beat it.

One of our party got work on the Patit, another near Milton and I helped the DeMaris and Dixie Boys thresh at Dixie. While in the field one afternoon there occurred a total eclipse of the sun. It got so dark that the chickens went to roost and the threshing crew took a rest. It was a great relief to me as it gave me time to get the barley beards out of my shirt.

When Sunday came I tried to ride a gentle white cayuse with a glass eye. I guess he knew I was a tenderfoot for he bucked me off and split my overalls in such a place that when I went to the cook wagon for a needle and thread, I had to back away into the brush before I could turn around.

I did not last long in harvest, for one day a half-breed named Pelkey, playfully jabbed me in the back with a pitchfork handle, making me so lame I could not work.

I returned to the Alpowa country and spent the winter there, part of the time at Uncle Tom's and part of the time with an old retired miner, Joseph Van Arx. This is part of my introduction to Washington Territory. In the spring of 1879, I worked a while for Mr. Newel of the Statesman and went to Boise, Idaho, with Herman Sattler, a half brother of Charles Besserer, editor of the Watchman, the only man I ever heard of who got rich running a newspaper. Charlie used to impress it firmly on his printers that he had the contract to do the drinking for the office, if he saw them going out too often.

On that trip we camped one night at Meacham on the spot where President Harding was welcomed last summer by the pioneers of the Oregon Trail.

I spent the winter in Deer Lodge, Montana, and the summer in Butte and returned to Washington in September, 1880, working a few months for Mr. Cook who made Mount Spokane famous by making a road to its summit and building a cabin thereon.

One winter in Montana was sufficient, so I came back to Washington as soon as I could ford the mountain streams on the old Mulan trail. One stream had to be forded 175 times and the Coeur d'Aene river 225 times and in one place the trail ran in the bed of the stream for five miles. This is the trail that Governor Isaac Stevens, Joesph Fontaine, C.J. Broughton, C.H. Day and other pioneers traveled to this part of the world.

Great changes have taken place along that trail since those days. Where there were camping places know as Nigger Prairie, Jackass Prairie, Mud Prairie, the Crows Nest and Mission are now quite large mining towns, railroads and highways.

I returned to Dayton in the spring of 1881 to work for Mr. O.C. White. Guess I brought the small pox with me, for we had it pretty bad here that winter. I have been here ever since. A fellow asked me the other day how long I had been here, I replied, "about 47 years." "Huh, he said, I knowed you wouldn't stay when you come."

I have worked almost continuously since coming here, seldom getting a day off, and have put in enough nights and Sundays to more than make up for any vacation I ever had. Why did I do it? It was necessary at times to do all the work in the office myself in order to pay my bills. I did not like to go among the people with that sheep-killing-dog look on my face knowing that I owed everybody while at the same time they owed me much more.

In an effort to make things meet I have tried various schemes. I have tried fruit growing, got stung; tried chicken raising, never got an egg; tried raising hogs; all died with cholera infantum; turkeys wouldn't stay at home--would go over and roost on the neighbor's barn, peacocks and guinea hens likewise; goats skinned up all the shrubbery, and their kids would gambol on the barn and tear off the shingles, making believe they were descending a rocky cliff; raised potatoes on the mountain, sold at 50 cents a sack, then the storekeeper would dock me because he let some of them freeze; cut wood in the mountains, hired guys to haul it, who, if they couldn't pull a full load up the side hill, would pitch it as far down the canyon as they could where no one could get it out; had a fine cherry orchard; let an honest man pick them on the shares. He picked his share and left my share on the trees; shipped 400 boxes to Spokane and received 13 cents return from the commission man; shipped apples to Chicago, was told to come across with the freight as they did not sell for enough to pay expenses. No wonder I had to work nights and Sundays. The commission men, wood haulers, tax collectors, chickens, turkeys, hogs and goats made me do it. I thought I was working all the time for myself, but these animals all had me working for them. Besides attending to those little pastimes, I cleared 80 acres of timber land on the mountain while I was resting.

Anyway it was good pastime and a real education. Now I'm a graduate in all these pastimes and have a sheepskin on the fence to prove it.

Since my coming to this earth the United States has gone through several stages of development and changes in social forms and customs. When I was quite young, the lady of the house could go to the corner grocery or cross-roads store and buy a gallon of whisky with which to make a barrel of pickels. By adding a half barrel of water to the gallon whisky and putting the cucumbers right in, made the pickles without further trouble. On New Year's day, the ministers of the village used to call on their friends all over town. They were expected and were not disappointed as to their welcome, as there were usually three black bottles on the sideboard from which to choose. They usually sampled all three so as to be certain which was the best. It was simply the custom of the times and the minister did not allude to it in any way from his look-out on the following Sunday.

I have seen the covered wagons pass through Kansas, labeled "Texas or Bust." Then return in another year labeled, 'Busted, by God."

I have seen all the continental railroads penetrate this state from the east, and automobile take the place of the pack horse and stage coach.

I have seen the business of the country develop from the cross-roads store to great department stores and the breweries take the place of the old German Home brew. And looking back over the years and different customs of the people, I believe the most enjoyable age was when the brewers ran the government. I believe the people generally were more contented then than they are now, in this age of Volstead moonshine and Teapot Oil Dome. There was some nourishment in the brewery age, but there is none in this moonshine and oil age.

While I have lived in Dayton the people have been very kind and considerate toward me. The proof for this is that they have allowed me to brouse about here so many years. And that is not all, they have unintentionally allowed me to amass a great fortune, which, when I get it on deposit, I shall distribute among the poor. This great stack of wealth is now in the hands of our delinquent subscribers.

This will be my last jolly to you in the Chronicle. I love the people of Dayton, whether they love me or not, and I am going to stick around a while and have some fun with you yet. I notice that some of you are going into the chicken, goat and fruit business, and if my diploma along these lines is any indication to you of my ability, my services are at your command at a very nominal fee. I have been 50 years in the printing business and know so little about it that I know I shall never get my diploma. No one ever did who has worked so long at it. I am now past 66 years of age. I have decided to live to be only 107. Just think of it, I'll only be with you 41 years more. I can see only a slight change in my physical condition since coming here and that change is in my eyesight. When I came to this territory I could kill a fly at 100 yards with a squirrel rifle. Now I can't see through the hind sight of a gun. Can you beat it? I thank you.

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Copyright © 2000 by Steve Jacobson