February 25, 1898 (Friday):
After consulting the 1860 census and comparing dates and other facts, it is believed the author of this story was Mary Jane Hill Byles (1833-1916), wife of David Byles. Mary Jane was listed as a member the 1853 Longmire-Byles immigrant train which was the first to cross the Cascades north of the Columbia River via the Natches Pass.
Pioneer Life in Washington, A Story of the Early Days
Author unknown (Written for the Vidette)
The spring of fifty-three I started with friends across the plains. A long and tedious trip, but by no means uninteresting to me, a girl of twenty, with no cares. October 22 we landed on Mound Prairie, near Tenino, Thurston county, with but two neighbors within ten miles. We moved out of our wagons into a bachelor's house of one room for ten of us. We partitioned it off with wagon canvas and tents, into different apartments. We lived there until February, 1854, when the folks moved into a log house of their own.
I shall never forget the first party I attended in Washington. It was during the holidays of '54 if I remember right. 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, Ore., and are very wealthy society people. They told me if I would get married I would get three hundred and sixty acres of land, so of course I got married and got my three hundred and sixty acres of land. Wheat was $5 a bushel and everything else in proportion, but we never went hungry.
In the spring of '54 we went up to Olympia to help lay the corner-stone of the Masonic hall. There we first met GEORGE BARNES, ELWOOD EVANS, GIDDINGS, CHARLES WILLIAMS, SYLVESTER, all the MASONS. We were all entertained at COLONEL COX's hotel. You could not see the town for the stumps; they seemed to be bigger than the houses.
There we planned to build a neat log house. The next thing was something to furnish it with. We had a bed and stove and a few dishes, but that was all. We wanted some furniture but there was not to be had so my husband made a table of split boards. I thought I could make some improvements so I went to work, making stools that were round and stuffed them with moss, and tacked gunny sacking over the top, then tacked oil calico over that, with a frill all around. My first rocking chair I made out of a sugar barrel, and it was the most comfortable rocking chair I ever sat on. Then I got a big box and nailed it up against the wall and curtained it all around for a wardrobe. Then I made a lounge, stuffed it with moss, covered and curtained it around with oil calico. My husband was very busy making fences and getting ready to farm, and had no time to help me. The next thing was a side table; that was the most difficult to make. My plum bob was a twine string around a rock. When I got my house furnished I thought it was the coziest place---and it was.
The hardest thing that I ever tried to do was to do up a shirt. The first one I tried to do up I washed five times and re-ironed it and then made a failure. We next turned our attention to chickens. We heard of some up the river. My husband went and got a half-dozen, paid one dollar apiece, and carried them tied together across the horse's neck. We then got a pig; I have forgotten what we had to pay for that, but it was a good sum. I was very proud of my home, so simple and plain. In it I entertained all kinds of people, rich and poor, preachers and lawyers. When I hear some of my good sisters say, "I can't entertain so-and-so," I think to myself, you could if you wanted to. I did when I had but two rooms to cook, eat, and sleep in.
The spring of '55 my husband took a contract of surveying. I stayed on the farm with a hired man and little girl ten years old, milking cows and making butter, for which we got fifty cents a pound.
That was the summer the Indians broke out east of the mountains, so the neighbors gathered together and decided to build a fort. Sure enough, by the time they finished it, word came that the Indians were coming on this side of the mountains and that we must hasten to the fort. If I remember rightly there were thirty families in all; that included all from Centralia to Bush Prairie. We stayed there sixteen months. We had preaching and Sunday school every Sunday in the Bastion. We all lived as close together as we could, there being just a partion (sic) between us, and not one had a falling out. I suppose we were afraid the Indians would kill us and we wished to die in peace with all mankind.
When the war was over we all returned to hour homes. The neighbors decided to build a school house, with a Masonic and Sons of Temperance hall above. As yet we had no house to worship in except our homes. I entertained more preachers, Masons and Sons of Temperance in that little log house than any other woman in this country. (It's no wonder I am down on the Masonic fraternity.) We had grand good times in those days. We did not have many neighbors, but what we did have were good and kind.
In the fall of '57 we moved to Olympia. The next summer we concluded to move to Grays Harbor to raise our boys, for we had three. We sold all our household goods except what we could put into canoes, went to Blockhouse Smith's in a wagon, then went down the river in canoes. My baby was three weeks old.
There were very few people in Chehalis county those days. HILL at Black River, BLOCKHOUSE SMITH at Cedarville, SAMUEL WILLIAMS and SIDNEY FORD at Sharon, PETER ANDERSON at Elma, JOHN BRADY at Satsop, MEDCALF, MACE, and KING at Montesano, SCAMMON at Wynooche, HEGERMAN at poor farm, O'LEARY on the bay, PETERSON at Westport, and PILKINGTON at Cosmopolis. These were all the white people in Chehalis county.
It took two weeks to go to Olympia and return with supplies. Mrs. YOUNG and myself staying alone with the Indians, not a neighbor within ten miles of us.
The first quarterly meeting held in the county was at Wynooche by ELDER DONE and the pastor , REV. FRANKLIN. There were four communicant, Father and Mother MEDCALF, Mrs. SCAMMON and myself. Mr. and Mrs. MACE were there, but they were Quakers and did not commune. We had a good meeting and God permitted us to draw very near to him on 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 got our baskets and babies and boarded a large scow, with Old Glory floating in the breeze. The eagle squealed and we sang patriotic songs and had such a good jolly time. There METCALFS, YOUNGS, HOLBROOKS, CAMPBELL, MRS. WARD, CHARLIE BYLES, GOODELLS and myself and family.
The next celebration was at Father SMITH's. i shall never forget that Fourth. Early in the morning Mrs. SCAMMON and children, Mother BYLES, and myself and babies got into a canoe with an Indian 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. GEORGE SCAMMON I think was about 16 years old; he was big enough to take the bow of the canoe. finally we reached Father SMITH's and found Father and Mother MEDCALF, Mr. and Mrs. MACE, Mr. And Mrs. DAVID CHALMERS, with their families, also JOHN BRADY. 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 first tame ones I had eaten in this country. The table was set out under the oak trees for the house was too small for us all to get in at once. JOHN MEDALF came riding an ox with the stars and stripes afloat from his huge horns
and John blowing a horn. We had a fiddle and John played while Father Smith and John Brady danced. We sung patriotic songs and squealed the eagle hoarse. We had no smoke for there was no powder.
Those were memorable days. How happy we all were, for we had everything in common. Late in the afternoon each went his and her 2ay and we took to the brush to find our canoe. 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 and ED CAMPBELL, KARR, MILROY, and YOUNG, myself, husband and babies, in a large sailboat; all 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 six hours. So the men took a baby apiece and started for shore. My husband and Mr. KARR wished to carry me, but I preferred 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 would 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, and her shoes were much too short. After we got through laughing I put my clothes out to day. The boys all sat in the sun until they dried off, and when the tide turned we started for the polls to vote---but after all they would not let me vote. Don't tell me that the women can't go to the polls to vote, for they can if the brethren will let them.
The first Methodist preacher I heard preach in the county was DOUGLASS. The first Presbyterian was FATHER GOODELL; the first Disciple was FATHER TAYLOR; the first Baptist was CASTO.
The spring of '61 my husband went to the Salmon River mines, having lost all we had on the Harbor. I was left all alone without a neighbor nearer than ten miles, except EDWRD CAMPBELL and Mr. KARR, both on the Hoquiam River. I walked all over Hoquiam and Aberdeen when there was not a living thing to be seen.
The first time I was in Montesano I came up the river in a sail boat. 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 lay down to keep the brush from pulling our heads off. There was no one living where the city of Montesano now stands. METCALF, KING, and MACE were then living in that vicinity.
After my husband returned from the mines we concluded to take a homestead up the river. So on the third of July, '63, we moved up to our homestead. My husband and his brother-in-law had been batching in a little log house, and when he came to visit me I said I was going up with him. He told me the house was too small, but that made no difference; I said, "Where you live I can live and I am going," and I did. So on the third of July we reached our future home. We put our things in the house, ate our dinner, then my husband returned to bring up the cattle. I was left alone in the woods 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 babies to bed and sat down to read a chapter in the bible. All at once the wild-cats began to screech, the owls to woo-woo, and wolves to howl. I jumped in bed almost frightened to death. I believe that was the only time in my life that 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 afraid to breathe. Next morning I looked to see if my hair was white. I don't believe that old adage, for if fright turned anyone's hair white, I would not have had a black hair on my head.
This was on Friday evening. Saturday all day long I just walked and dreaded for night to come, but did not let the little ones know that I was afraid. Saturday evening I went to bed, for I was afraid to sit up, only to have the same experience as the night before. On Sunday I looked up and saw a young man and woman coming. I said, "The Lord surely sent you." They laughed, and I told them of my experience of the two past nights; they told me that the animals that ran over the floor were skunks. I asked them if they would bite; they said not unless I touched them.
We had no house, and I proposed to my husband to sell my gold watch and chain for lumber to build a house. He seriously objected, but I said I would never wear a gold watch and have no house. Soon after a man came along who had a small mill on Cedar creek, and I asked him if he would give me lumber to build a house for my watch. He said he would and my husband went up the river, hauled the lumber to the river, rafted it and sent it down. 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 made tea of wild cherry and dogwood bark and rested awhile. The first doctor that came to this county was Dr. Casto, about twenty-four years ago. Then the people began to get sick and they have wanted a doctor ever since.
We did not visit much for there were few to visit and they lived far apart, but when we did we had such a good time. I love pioneering. I look back to those as being my happiest days, but it has not all been roses, for there were many thorns and many heartbreaks; but God has been good and he has not sent one single thing but what has been sent in mercy. When I hear the new-comers growling about the old mossbacks not doing so-and-so, I feel like "Josiah Allen's Wife," I want to sot down on 'em. I do not 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 very few of them left to tell the story. Nearly all have passed over to the great beyond, from labor to reward. Mr. And Mrs. MACE, Mr. and Mrs. Blockhouse SMITH, Mrs. GOODELL, Mr. Sam WILLIAMS and wife, Mr. O'LEARY (who I hear is living at James GLEESON's), Messrs. KARR, CAMPBELL, and PETERSON, and Mother HIMES, are all that are living in this county, and we are spared to see the wilderness bud and blossom as the rose. I know it is even time with me and my work is almost at an end. I have drunk of the bitter cup, yea to the very dregs. I will say as one of old, though he slay me yet will I trust him. I am just watching and waiting. I heard a preacher say, two or three years ago, preaching a funeral sermon, "The old pioneers did not know much outside of the bible." I thank God we always had our bible and could say our prayers without a ritual.
"A Pioneer Grandmother"