Sunday, October 7, 2012

One Man's Journey - Part XIV


I haven’t mentioned Arthur much except to note his birth, but at this point he was still a baby and couldn’t have entered too much into our activities. I think he was somewhat spoiled, but that was only natural because he got a lot of attention. As a matter of fact, if he did not get the attention required, he would hold his breath for long periods, until he turned blue. That scared us all, but he eventually outgrew the habit.


I believe it was shortly before Arthur was born that someone showed up one evening with a phonograph. It was one like you’ve seen in pictures with the dog captioned “Know his Master’s Voice.” The machine was placed on a center table that Mama usually kept in the center of the living room. I know it was evening because we had a couple of kerosene lamps going to light up the proceedings. The black rubber records were cylinders and it was wonderful when we heard the voices coming from it. I don’t recall that there was music, but it was enough to hear the magic. (What will they think of next?)


I believe we got our telephone sometime later, maybe 1914. Anyway, it was another thing that was hard for us to comprehend. It was extremely hard for me to talk on or over it since you were standing there talking to a blank wall. Soon after we got the phone, Giles Bacon called me. I couldn’t say a word, he did all the talking.

Of course, you probably can guess it was a crank operated contraption. A ring would get the operator and she would get the other party. I believe there were some phones that could be used by ringing the other party who had 1 – 2 - 3 or 4 rings and you must believe when other households heard the rings of their neighbors everybody in the valley was listening in on the conversation. That way you could pick up a lot of dirt. ? !

When some people in Caldwell found out we had a phone, they would call us in an effort to get Ernie Bedford. As described earlier, Ernie lived about ¾ mile away across the river. We tried to accommodate the callers, so Mama would go out to the knoll back of the barn and holler –Ernie!- etc., telephone. He would then get into his boat and row over and call his caller. I don’t imagine this process happened too many times because it was a long haul across that river and rowing a boat across that current wasn’t much fun, so the call had to be very important.


As I have described, we had a number of horses, but none that you could call saddle horses except maybe Mazeppa, who I described earlier; but she was too hard to ride, so we spent nearly all of our traveling by foot. But Mack and Dad did ride her on occasion. One time, the regular ditch rider was off for a day or so and Dad was elected to ride ditch. In this case he used Mazeppa. About two to three miles from home, they came to a drop where a large rattle snake was sunning himself on the planks across the top of the drop. The horse either scented or sighted the snake and promptly started to buck. She dumped Dad off on the ditch bank and came home by herself at a dead run. Of course, we got excited and got a hold of Mack who went looking for Dad as he made his way slowly home on foot. Dad did kill the snake. He had either 11 or 12 rattles, indicating he was about 12 years old.

Mack had an old horse we called Slocum which we used a lot for derrick horse. Mack let Colonel and me use Slocum a lot and sometimes kept him at our place overnight. We didn’t use a saddle or bridle, only a halter and a lead rope to steer the horse. One time, Dad and Mack were moving the derrick to a different location and were in the yard between the house and the barn with some cable trailing and the boom loosely anchored. Mama asked me to go up to Uncle Andy’s and get a pound of butter from Aunt Ellen. I got Slocum out of the barn and mounted him and took off, but Slocum had different ideas. He didn’t want to leave the barn. He had to skirt one side of the derrick on the way out to the road, but he continued around the derrick headed back to the barn. He was nearly around the derrick when one of his feet caught on the trailing cable. Somehow that tripped the chain that was holding the boom. Slocum stopped dead in his tracks. He did not move a muscle. The long end of the boom came down, missing Slocum’s nose by inches, then bounced 10 to 12 feet into the air. This process was repeated a couple of time and then Slocum proceeded on into the barn, scraping me off on the low door on his way in.

While the boom was bouncing around, nobody could do a thing. I don’t think they could even yell a warning, but old Slocum knew what he was doing. I don’t recall anything more about the butter, but if I got it, I’m sure I walked. To put it mildly, I was scared, as was everyone else.

The Hammers

To the west of us and a little bit north lay the Hammer place. Mack Stocker’s place was between our place and the Hammer place. The reason I write about these people is because they were fine neighbors and I worked for them part of one summer.

Albert Hammer and his wife, I’ve forgotten her name, were immigrants from Sweden. Mrs. Hammer was a huge person; she loved to eat and her use of sugar was enormous. She drank sugar with coffee, not coffee with sugar, using a teaspoon of sugar with each sip of coffee. I don’t remember too much about Mr. Hammer. Strange. {Albert and Marie Hammar lived on their place as described by Uncle Jack in both 1910 and 1920 when the censuses were taken. They also had a younger daughter, Margareta. Albert's brother, Oscar, was single.}

They had three children – Carl, George and Ruth. The children were somewhat older than we were. As far as I can remember, they never went to school in our area. Ruth, who was a wonderful person, was crippled, having been born with a club foot and as you know, in those days, they didn’t make much effort to repair the affliction.

The Hammers had homesteaded considerable more land than we had, and in addition with the land of Albert’s brother, Oscar, they had a considerable spread. None of it fenced except, maybe, the immediate corrals, etc. Their cattle holdings were considerable and that is where I came in. I was hired for the huge sum of 10₵ a day to herd 100 to 150 head of cattle over a range of bunch grass, cactus and sage brush. They furnished me with a horse, saddle and a pair of spurs that were a little difficult to wear on bare feet, so I was forced to wear shoes at least part of the time. The horse was rather gentle and he didn’t need much guidance in keeping the cattle in line. There was only one time I can recall that he got a little bit fractious and I landed in the middle of one of those desert cactus plants. I walked the rest of the day. Mama spent considerable time that evening pulling cactus spines out of my back side.

I always took a lunch with me, but getting water to drink was a problem. We had cloth water bags, but in that hot climate, water didn’t last too long. There was an irrigation ditch running through part of the range that I could get a drink of water, but you had to get rid of the water lice before you could sip the stuff up. It’s a wonder we didn’t get typhoid fever from some of the water we drank. Us kids made it a practice of drinking out of the river whenever the need arose. Typhoid fever was prevalent and many in the valley died from drinking polluted water. We must have been tough!!

As Colonel and I got a bit older, several of us, maybe eight to twelve boys, would congregate at the Hammer place on Sunday afternoons and ride horses, cattle or anything else that would buck. Sort of a miniature rodeo. We also did a little shooting on occasion, like at the back house or shot gun shells, etc. We would place a shot gun shell on top of a fence post and try and hit the cap with a .22 rifle bullet. If you succeeded in hitting the cap, the shell would explode, allowing lead pellets to travel in all directions, hopefully, not in your direction. Dangerous? No, I don’t think so. Nobody ever got hurt and some pretty good marksmen were developed. This was almost as much fun as exploding shot gun and 30-30 ammunition in the school’s pot-bellied stove.


The Bacons had two canoes which were light weight, wood frame with canvas covering, and a double ended row boat with 8-10” draft. The Bacons lived about one-and-a-half miles from our place and, I suppose, it is two to two-and-a-half miles due south to the river from their place. The canoes could be carried, but the boat and oars were too heavy to carry, so most of the time it was tied up at our place and Colonel and I could use it whenever we wanted. It was almost impossible for us to row the heavy boat upstream any long distances. The water was rather slack and about one-half mile along our place, so we managed to get the boat up there rather easily with two of us rowing, each handling one oar.


The bar out into the river formed by the water from the ditch break and the soil from our place subsequently caused a back water pond that was ideal for muskrats, bull frogs and carp after the lilies and willows started to grow and that took only about a year or two at the most. The muskrats took to building their houses out in the center of the pond, with an entrance below water line. From these houses, we took a lot of excellent hides in the wintertime. The water wasn’t very deep, maybe two to three feet, but in the wintertime, it wasn’t too healthy to wade around in the ice cold water. We did enough of that by accident (see somewhere below). There also got to be a lot of bull frogs that we were able to catch, with a lot of effort, I must add. These frogs had legs on them the size of a chicken drumstick and they were delicious.

The back water also became a nesting place for many waterfowl and birds, the most noted ones being magpies, black birds, both red-wing and yellow head, owls, many hawks and, once in a while, a pair of eagle. A flock of swan usually dropped by, probably for a rest during their long journey, about twice a year.

Colonel and I would stand out on the bank above the river and watch the waterfowl fly south in the fall and north in the spring. During two to three weeks each season, we would watch in amazement because they flew in waves as far east as we could see and the same to the west. There were millions of them, all with the same urge. These waves were about 15 minutes apart, day and night. There were many geese also, but they tend to fly in the familiar ‘V'; and the beautiful call they made will always be remembered.

I must mention here that we used the double ended boat to get around the muskrat houses, as well as hunt frogs. The place abounded with freshwater clams. We dug up thousands of them, looking for pearls. We tried eating them, but they were too muddy. We never found any pearls in spite of the things we had read about the possibility.

Ike Jones

Ike Jones was one of our neighbors living about two miles inland from our place. He liked to come down and hunt with Colonel and me. I would judge that he was about 70 years old at the time. He claimed to have fought in the Civil War, so he had lots and lots of stories to tell us; and, of course, we ate them up. He never tired of showing us the back of his neck where a bullet had gone through. Mrs. Jones sometimes helped Mama during haying, or whatever. Mama said something about Ike being wounded. She told Mama that Ike had, indeed been in the Union Army, but had been wounded by one of his companions while squirrel hunting before the war. Ike was running through the woods and the guy took a shot at him thinking he was a squirrel.

We had gone hunting with Ike on numerous occasions, but Colonel had never before noticed how he carried his shotgun and its position. Ike usually carried the gun, a double barrel with hammers, over his shoulder, muzzle forward, and in this case, Colonel noted, both barrels were cocked ready to fire. Colonel had, in this instance, been walking in front of Ike so the gun was pointed directly at Colonel’s head. Colonel stopped and asked Ike if he knew that both barrels were cocked. Ike admitted this and told us that he always carried his guns in such a manner. Colonel didn’t say a word, just climbed the bank and headed for the house. He would not hunt with Ike again.
to be continued ...

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