Sunday, October 28, 2012

One Man's Journey - Part XV

In the stretch of river one and a half miles east to about six to eight miles northwest of our place, there were numerous islands, and for most of them we had names. The one running opposite and east we called Long Island. It was about a mile long, so it extended beyond the boundaries of our place. Opposite Mack’s place there was a small, I believe formed, island on which we spent most of our time. We called this Little Island. Downstream and nearly connected to Little was Middle Island, and then there was Froman’s, Fry’s, etc. Ed and Giles Bacon, Colonel and I roamed these islands at every opportunity. In doing so, we could not use the old boat since, as explained above, it was too heavy to either row upstream or to carry since horses were not always available to us; but, we could handle the currents in the canoes and also carry them if necessary, two or three miles. (We did a lot of walking.)

Island Hide-away

On most of the islands, we had built some kind of shelters and also had odds and ends of food and utensils cached on most of them, especially Little Island. Two pennies was a lot of money to us, but we figured we’d never be broke if we could come back and dig them up if needed. –Dreamers- I suppose those pennies are still there, but surely the tobacco can must be rusted away as it’s been close to 70 years {about 1915} since we buried them. We didn’t do much on Long Island. I’m sure there was a lot there and it could be reached rather easily with the boat, but there were no beaches to speak of as water had cut away the banks so they were quite sharp. The island was also quite brushy. There were a lot of wild gooseberries and wild current that Colonel and I picked for Mama to make jelly, jam or whatever.

Ernie Bedford used to pasture his horses on Long Island quite a bit and it was quite a sight to see Ernie get the horses over to the island because they had to swim.

I suppose there were a lot of artifacts on these islands because the Indians had lived along the rivers hundreds of years and, perhaps thousands, so they had to leave something; but, we didn’t seem to be too interested and came by materials mostly by accidental means. It wasn’t until many years later that I realized the opportunities I had missed of being a budding anthropologist.

Between Little Island and Middle Island the water ran quite swift and deep, so it had cut into the east end of Middle Island, causing erosion. In shooting this gap in the canoes one day, some of us noticed some bones sticking out of the bank about six to eight feet above the water. We did not investigate at the time, but did tell the Hammer’s boys about it. They dug it up and found part of a skeleton as well as many stone points and other prehistory artifacts. Dad plowed up an ivory tusk about 18 to 20 inches long. We kept it around the house for some time and eventually he gave it to the college in Caldwell. During a trip through the area several years ago, Buddie {Florence Totten, Jack’s wife} visited the college, contacted the department head and asked to see the tusk; but, the pieces were not marked by the donator’s name. I did pick out one I believed was plowed up by my father.

A little explanation

For the past seven to eight sheets, I’ve been dealing pretty much with “fun and games,” but there is much serious information to follow; but, I think I shall continue with the “fun and games” until they are somewhat played out and hope they are not too boring to you.

In view of the above, I shall therefore, continue with the case of the mid-winter swim.

If I can recall, it was about 4:00 a.m. when Colonel and I got up to tend our traps set in the river along Mack Stocker’s place about one-half mile northwest of our house. It was extremely cold with a huge full moon so bright that I believe you could read a newspaper. Hoarfrost was clinging to everything and the air was extremely clear and clean. Huge chunks of ice were moving slowly downstream, some of the chunks were twelve to fifteen feet square. The traps were located in such a place that we had to use the double ended boat to get to them. After clearing our traps, it was so cold we decided to moor the boat at this point, crawl through the willows and go home. I was in the front end of the boat, ready to step out onto the shore, and Colonel, always in a hurry, tried to get ashore ahead of me. Since we were both on the same side of the boat, it tilted. I was going and grabbed Colonel, so both of us landed in the water. It wasn’t too deep, three to four feet, but we were loaded down with heavy clothing and five to six dead muskrats. We got home okay, took off our clothes, which were frozen solid, and got in bed. However, before getting into bed, I put my shoes, the button variety, into the oven of the kitchen range. This was a mistake because Dad got up sometime later and built a roaring fire in the stove. I don’t know if it was the odor or smoke from the burning shoes that caused Mama to open the oven door. The shoes were ruined. They were the only pair I had. But for my thoughtless act, I was told I had to wear those shoes. I did. But, after they were baked, they didn’t last long, maybe two to three days. The worst part: Dad had to get another pair for me. We were fortunate that Colonel didn’t put his shoes in the oven, too.


I’ve mentioned fishing a few times somewhere above, but never got around to describing some of the fish we caught.

There was a lot of what we called scrap fish in the river; namely, carp, suckers, squaw fish, chisel mouth, white fish and sturgeon. (Not scrap. Read on.) All but the sturgeon were full of very small bones. If you could get a carp large enough, they weren’t too bad to fight the bones; but, they tasted muddy. We ate some of all the fish, but never made a practice of it. It was too bad, since the river was full of the things and it was no trouble catching them.


The sturgeon, however, was different, as their skeleton is made of cartilage, which I believe is similar to the shark; no small bones, the meat slightly oily, but delicious. Nearly every year we caught at least one of these fish, usually two to three feet long and up to about 12 pounds; and then, we caught one that really paid off. I think sometimes it must have been an accident, since neither the place nor time was right. The water was high up past the fence Dad had built along the shore. One of us tied about eight feet of line on the corner fence post with a single hook. Fairly large. The line must have been weighted, but I don’t remember how. We baited with angle worms and left it there all night. We got down to the river fairly early to check our lines, never dreaming that we’d have more than a carp or sucker. We took one look and started to yell and holler. It was a whale! Nothing could be that big! I just can’t remember how we got him out of the river.

I do know that he was too big for Colonel and me to handle. Mack Stocker, Dad and Mama arrived on the scene. The hook was straightened out, so it wouldn’t have taken much action on the sturgeon’s part to free himself. He was just under six feet and weighed 75 pounds. Now, that’s a real fish story.

Sturgeon got quite large in the river. Dad saw one at Nampa’s ferry, about one-and-a-half to two miles southeast of our place. They claimed it weighed 300 pounds. It was longer than a wagon box. Check your encyclopedia on this fish.

We were never able to catch a salmon. They did get up that far to spawn, as we found many dead ones on the beach. They had to come up the Columbia and then the Snake, so that was several hundred miles travel.

Edgar and Clarence

We spent quite a bit of time with our cousins Edgar and Clarence, fishing, swimming, etc., in the summer times. Many of the pictures we now have, both of those boys were in them. However, there is one thing that bothers me: I do not remember either one of them going to our school and they don’t show up in any of the school pictures. Why? Edgar was one grade ahead of me and Colonel was one grade ahead of Clarence.

One day, Edgar and I decided to go duck hunting on Little Island. Of course, we used the double-ended boat and muffled the oars so the band of ducks on the upstream point of the island wouldn’t spook. It was a fairly dark morning, so we made the crossing without trouble and tied the boat up on the lower part of the island. We sneaked up through the willows, but by the time we’d gotten in shooting range, the ducks had moved upstream and were slowly floating back down. We sat down in the willows to wait for them. We sat there for some time in semi-darkness, and as it grew lighter, I saw that Edgar had his gun across his lap with the business end pointed right at me, not four feet away. I asked him to point it the other way. No sooner did he get it pointed in the other direction than it went off. Of course, it scared all the ducks in a half-mile radius and it ended the duck hunting for that day. I was scared and, as I recall, I never went hunting with Cousin Edgar again.

Along the old trail three to four miles northwest of our place (about where the hounds chased the coyote) and about 300 to 400 yards north of the river were a number of natural ponds, heavy with alkali. The ducks used these ponds as a way-station quite often. We’d never been able to shoot ducks in these ponds because the country was open and we couldn’t get in shooting distance. This particular day, we were in the area fairly early, maybe nine or ten a.m. We saw the ducks in the ponds and as we walked toward them, they stayed. It was a cool morning and had been cold all night. As we got closer, the ducks still didn’t move and that was when we discovered that there were 10-15 frozen in the ice. Duck dinners were in order and we saved a lot of ammunition.

I believe it was the same day, or at least the same area, when Eddie Bacon lost two inches of his gun barrel. There were about three to four inches of snow on the ground. Somehow, Eddie had poked the muzzle of his gun into the snow. When he took the next shot at a rabbit, about two inches of the barrel went right along with the shot. The recoil knocked Ed down and from there on out, the gun was about as useless as a pilgrim's blunderbuss.

I must tell you this story now since it was on the same trail and in the same general area as the preceding stories. Giles and I had one of the Bacon horses, bareback, with halter and lead rope to guide the horse in the general direction we wanted to go. We were loaded down with guns and maybe other trappings. We were headed toward our place at a very gentle gallop or lope. The horse had been running in that manner for some time, but for some reason, he decided to go home. He didn’t stop. He didn’t even slow up, just made a 90-degree left turn. What a pile up, and it hurt; but we managed in due course to get home. I don’t think that horse ever broke his stride until he got into the barn at his home.


[I] drew a rather crude drawing of a ferry, powered, or rather, pushed along by the flowing water, i.e., current.

I don’t know how big these ferries were, but they did transport a freight wagon and six to eight horses at a time. They may have unhitched some of the horses and stowed them alongside the wagon.

The position of the rudder was all important since the angle determined the speed of crossing. As you can see, the rudder was fastened near center of hull so it could swing in either direction.

This was Froman’s ferry, which I shall note in the following pages. [JA 11/5/1986]
Jump Creek fish

Mack Stocker and, I believe his uncle, took a fishing trip over to Jump Creek. According to the map I now have, it is probably about eight miles from ours or Mack’s place. They went down river one-and-a-half to two miles south to the main Oregon Trail, thence northwest about six miles. Mack and his pardner were gone three to four days and when they got home, they gave us a dozen or so fish. The fish were not too large, six to eight inches long, but we had never eaten anything like them. The main thing, of course, was that there were no bones; and, of course, Colonel and I were all gung-ho to go over there.

Mack told us about the campgrounds where some of the immigrants had camped and the number of graves where some were buried. Mama knew the story and told us about these people and how they tried to survive starvation. It seems that some soldiers out of Fort Boise found them in time to save most. It was a horror story and would serve no purpose to enter it here.

Of course, Colonel and I lost no time in telling our friends the Bacons about those good fish. We all wanted to go over there, but we got opposition from all the parents. We were too young to make such a trip by ourselves. I don’t know how much time passed before our parents agreed to let us go, but we had to take Robin, the Bacon’s  elder son, to see that we got there and back, as well as take care of horses, etc. As it turned out, Robin wasn’t too smart after all. Read on.

We collected all of our stuff at the Bacon place; food, bedding, guns and ammunition, and some feed for the horses (oats). I believe we had a couple of water bags hanging under the wagon where they would stay cool. All this stuff was stacked in the yard, and Colonel and Eddie were elected to stow the stuff in the wagon. We stayed in the Bacon bunkhouse that night so we could get an early start. There was much horseplay during the night. Eddie got his .22 rifle, and while lying in bed, began shooting the nail heads that held the ceiling lumber up. We found out that if you hit enough nail heads, the lumber would fall down. How many holes we put in the roof I’ll never know. I do know one thing; our dad would never have stood for such shenanigans.

I’m sure we got a fairly early start the next morning. I don’t remember crossing the river, but the slow trip up to Jump Creek was fun. I don’t recall that we had anything to eat after breakfast.

It was late afternoon when we arrived at Jump Creek, and of course, being very hungry, we started to unload the wagon. But, there was no food, a tin camp stove, yes, no food, no fishing tackle. Those two characters left everything for survival back in the Bacon’s yard. How we had gone off and left the stuff, I’ll never know; but since Robin was responsible for our welfare, we laid part of the blame on him. We didn’t want him to go along in the first place.

We managed. We’d shot a couple of rabbits earlier along with two mallard ducks upon arrival at the junction. We had the stove, but no utensils. Scattered around through the brush we found two to three items we could use: a wash basin, an old rusty iron fry pan, and what looked like a battered tin dish pan. We got the utensils all straightened out, built a fire in the stove and roasted our meat. It was OK, but the lack of salt made it rather flat. At least we didn’t starve.

That night was wonderful. The gurgle of the waters and howling coyotes lulled us to sleep. I don’t remember a thing about the trip home, but the one thing that I shall always remember is seeing that stack of groceries as we pulled into Bacon’s yard.
to be continued...

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