Sunday, July 15, 2012

One Man's Journey - Part VII

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Mama takes a swim

Mother Hubbard dresses
Of course we all had to take a bath once in a while since it was extremely hot, with no shade and everyone got very dirty, no bath tubs, so during the summer months the adults used the river for bathing.

It’s probably hard for you to believe, but your Grandmother Aitchison was a good and very strong swimmer. A gully that cut across our place close and just above the spring had formed a bar that extended into the river 20 to 30 feet. The current was very swift around the point of this bar. Mama, wearing a long Mother Hubbard dress would swim up against the current for 50 to 75 feet to the point of the bar. (Incidentally, the bar and water formed a deep hole next to the shore where I caught my first fish. Maybe more of this later.)

Our house

Of course, in addition to getting the Wickhams settled, Papa was busy getting our place in shape to start farming. So along with building a house, he was a very busy man. Our house was not completely finished until the early spring of 1909, and at this point irrigation water was yet one-and-a-half to two years away.

Papa hired Mr. Travis, noted above, to plaster our house. That is one thing I happily remember. I think of the strange fresh smell of wet plaster even today {1986}.

Clearing the land


Astragalus canadensis — Matt Lavin 001
Matt Lavin via Wikipedia Commons
I must explain about clearing the land. As explained above, the only living thing growing was sagebrush, which was fairly easy to clear. Papa obtained a couple of railroad irons, perhaps 20 feet long? They would hitch a team of horses on each end of the irons and drag it across the land. Sagebrush being short-rooted was easily pulled up. Since we used the brush for fuel to heat and cook, a lot was saved for this purpose. The rest was piled up and burned. Of course, clearing process extended over a number of years since the operation was slow for one man.

Wickham and Bedford

Winchester rifle grko474 rifleAt this point, there were probably two or three other settlers arriving in the Valley, and across the river a man by the name of Ernest Bedford built a house and started to clear his homestead. For some reason, Sam Wickham took a disliking for Mr. Bedford, and on day some shots were fired. I don’t know who started the fuss, but I do remember Sam sitting on the bank 20 to 30 feet above the water using a 30-30 rifle taking pot shots at Bedford and Bedford was doing the same thing at Sam. I don’t think either one of them came close, but anyway it was stupid of these two men since there were other people and livestock that they may have killed or injured. I believe the feud continued as long as the Wickhams lived on this place.


Early in the spring of 1909, our house had been built and a lot of the sage brush had been cleared from the land, but with no water, it wasn’t possible to plant crops of any kind. Papa and Mama did plant eight or ten poplar trees around the house, and they were watered by water that was hauled in a barrel or buckets from either the spring or the river.

Irrigation water/crews

Diversion Dam and Deer Flat Embankments
By Glade Walker [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
In order to get water for the land, a reservoir was built on Deer Flat held in by an earthen dam, and here again the building of the dam and high lines and laterals was done by the cooperation of the homesteaders. So, of course, Papa was involved in all of the construction which was done by horse and hand labor. I don’t know how they rationed the time spent on these projects, but believe it was allocated as to the number of acres homesteaded.

There were also paid crews hired to do the pick and shovel work. One of these crews camped at our place on the river bank about 150 to 200 feet south and east of our house. This crew was made up of mostly Italian and Basque, the foreman being Anglo. My mother cooked two meals a day for these men and provided a huge lunch which was transported in an equally huge box. Of course, I didn’t think much about it at the time, but in later years I have wondered how Mama managed to prepare food for 10 to 15 men for several months in that burning hot climate and in front of a burning hot Home Comfort kitchen range. She also had to carry in her own fuel and water since Bill or I was not big enough to do the chore, and as I mentioned above, the water had to be carted from the spring. I don’t know how long these men were boarded, but I’m sure it covered at least six months, Spring and Summer. {Deer Flat Reservoir was part of the “Boise Project” to provide irrigation water. Upon completion of the Boise River Diversion Dam, water began flowing to the reservoir on February 22, 1909. Deer Flat Reservoir was rename Lowell Lake and is now part of the Deer Flat National Wildlife Refuge. More can be read about the “Boise Project” here and here.}

The rabbit chase

Since entertainment was hard come by, these people {paid work crew} devised their own – and one such was running down jack rabbits. As explained above, rabbits were thick so it wasn’t much trouble for eight to ten of these guys to run down a rabbit. Bill and I used to watch them.


Xun ocarina tenore austriaco
Paolo Gavelli via Wikimedia Commons
These people also played the Oscarina {ocarina}, or potato whistle. It was the only music that they or we had. You could hear the music for miles – especially from across the river in sheep herder camps. Most of these herders were Basque, which we pronounced “Basqo” or “Basco.” Maybe more on these people later.

The coyotes

After we moved into our new house and the barns were all built, we didn’t have a chicken house (come to think of it, we never did), so Papa constructed a sort of coop along the north side of the house for a dozen, or so, chickens (small ones).

The coop was located pretty much under the bedroom window where Bill and I slept. During the night, a bunch of coyotes came in and cleaned out the chickens. Bill and I had a small white duck as a pet. This little creature was able to get into a length of eight-inch stovepipe that was lying in the yard. He was the only thing that survived the raid, but he had been damaged to some extent, as he always walked with a limp after that. I don’t know what eventually happened to our duck, but he did slip from memory.
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to be continued...





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