Sunday, July 8, 2012

One Man's Journey - Part VI

THE SECOND ERA (beginning 1908)

When I started this story, I thought I would do it in periods of 1902 – 1910, and thereafter each ten years, but decided I would do it as the breaks occurred. So, as a result, I’m starting the second period in March or April of 1908. I would be about three months past my fifth birthday.
Bureau of Land Management

The Move

Papa sold the farm located three miles east of Caldwell, Idaho, and applied for homestead land of 188 acres approximately 15 miles south of Caldwell. The property laid along the north bank of the Snake River for about one-half mile.

It is strange, but I can’t remember a thing about our preparation for moving nor the move itself over flat prairie-like landscape. There were no roads, just trails across sagebrush flats inhabited mostly by jack rabbits and coyotes.

The first thing I remember about this move was rounding a curve in the trail and lay before us the valley. We were, at this point, about three to four miles from our homestead. It is hard to describe. It was stark. Nothing but sagebrush and one lone house belonging to a family by the name of Travis. This house sat about in the center of this vast valley, rimmed by chalk hills with a huge extinct volcano anchoring the eastern end of the valley and the chalk hills running into the river at the western end of the valley. I, of course, didn’t know at the time, but it was later determined the valley was about 15 miles long and approximately four miles wide. So, at this point, we were about four miles from the river which had taken a north-westerly course, and at this point was quite wide (perhaps ¾ mile?). {view the map - William Aitchison is in Section 27}

Owyhee Mountains via Wikimedia Commons
Across the river was much of the same, not a soul moving. It was like we were standing with no other human within 10,000 miles. Across the river was a vast land of nothing, sloping gently up to the Owyhee range, which was approximately 70 miles south of the river. These hills, which are probably no higher than three- to four thousand feet, looked blue in the distance. It was a beautiful sight from our vantage point and extremely lonely. From this point, I don’t remember much until after we arrived at the river.

There was another family with us, the Sam Wickhams, his wife, Cora, and three or four children. Cora was mentally retarded as was one of the boys. Papa and Sam set up some tents until they were able to build a house for them. This building was a two-story affair setting in the middle an 80-acre homestead.

I must tell you at this point that there were five wagons in the little caravan. I don’t know how many horses, cows and other livestock. I do know that Papa had two teams (four horses) of large animals. One of these horses was a large black mare that we called Mizappa (I’m not sure of the spelling). Anyway, it had something to do with an ancient legend. Perhaps more on Mizappa later.

The Wickham property lay west of and across the road from our property. A spring of water was located about a hundred yards from the Wickham house and about the same distance from the location of our future home. (Of course, the animals used the river water for drinking.)

The spring was perhaps four feet deep and a couple of feet across with extremely clear and cold water. For the next two years, this spring played a big part in our lives. It did not have a cover, so we had to keep it lean of snakes, kangaroo rats and other small animals that fell into it almost daily. Papa didn’t do much on our place until after the Wickhams were pretty well settled. A barbed fence was built along the east side of the Wickham property.

The fence
via Wikipedia Commons
I’m guessing, but I believe our house was started in late summer or fall of 1908. One evening just about dusk, I ran from the Wickham house toward our partially finished house. I forgot about the new fence. The bottom wired was just high enough to catch across my throat. It dang near took my head off. It healed okay and left no scars.

I don’t remember when or how all the lumber and other supplies were obtained during this period. Since we were 15 miles from Caldwell, it was a long haul and must have taken two to three days at best.


I don’t know where my parents’ money supply came from during this period, but they must have received some cash from the sale of the place east of Caldwell. I do know that a house in Caldwell was part of the deal and was rented out, so some income was derived from that source. In those days, a dollar certainly went a lot farther than it does now. It would be hard to explain unless some research was done on the subject.


photo ca 1911, Clifton Johnson
One of the most interesting things that I recall of this period was the making of soap. It was a product hard to come by since our trips to town came only once or twice a year. So, Mama and Cora Wickham had to make soap. I don’t know all the materials that went into the manufacture except the following: tallow, derived from sheep or beef, lye and wood ashes. Mama and Cora would mix this stuff up in a large iron kettle and when it was ready, they would pour it into large bread pans and let it harden, after which they would cut it into bars with a knife.

I should explain that the mixture was cooked to allow the materials to mix. The cooking process was usually done outside over an open fire. That stuff must surely have been awfully hard on both clothes and hands, since all washing was done with a washboard and tub with water either carried from the spring or the river. It is possible that Mama did some washing in the river, but I don’t recall her doing so.
to be continued...

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