|Volume XXXVIII, Number 4||
|Early life in Nahcotta|
Copyright, 2003, by the Pacific County Historical Society. No portion of this publication may be reproduced in any form without the written permission of the Society's Editorial Board.
The Sou'wester is a quarterly publication of the
Pacific County Historical Society and Museum. The Pacific County
Historical Society is a non-profit 501(C)(3) organization in South Bend,
In addition to the Sou'wester, the Society publishes a quarterly newsletter for its members and operates the Pacific County Historical Society Museum in South Bend, Washington.
Design and electronic page layout by Charles B. Summers,
South Bend, Washington.
Winter Issue, 2003
The sternwheel steamboat BAILEY GATZERT. PCHS #10-8-70-1.
A portion of the 1910 map of Pacific County, Washington. Drawn by J. E. Buckingham. PCHS #2004.18.1.
| Pacific Northwest historian
Robert Ficken once wrote that history is not what happened in the past,
but what we know about what happened. To this bit of wisdom, I would
add that history belongs to the scribblers. Those that take the time
to write about what they know have an enormous influence on history.
Those that don’t write about their own lives are very likely to be forgotten.
It will be as if they did not exist.
We are very fortunate to be able to share with you in this issue a portion of the life story of Lee Risley Osborn (1889-1961). A young man who was born in the Midwest, and who grew up in one location after another, at first with his mother (his father shifted from one job to another frequently), and, after her death, with relatives up and down the West Coast. The first period of time when Lee resided in Pacific County was short (only about two years), but the experiences he had here were obviously powerful. We are indebted to Gene Woodwick of Ocean Shores for locating a copy of Lee’s autobiography in the Amanda Park Library. Lee’s brother Doug had donated the manuscript to the library some time after Lee passed away. I contacted Doug’s widow for permission to publish, but was unable to find the original family photos used to illustrate the original. I have substituted archive photos from our collection where possible. As always, for better or worse, the opinions and language are the author’s.
Bruce Weilepp, Editor
|The Ramblings of Lee Risley Osborn
By Lee Risley OsbornLeaving Minnesota
It must have been about midwinter when a letter came from Uncles Lyman and Alfred. They were inviting us to go to Nahcotta and make our home with them and Grandmother Osborn, and the letter contained fifty dollars for traveling expenses. The offer came out of a clear sky, and it took mother about six weeks to decide what course was best and get ready to go. It was a case of exchanging the charity of the Davises for that of my uncles, and the decision must have been a hard one for her to make. Looking back now, I believe she thought that the change might give me a better break in life, so she took the plunge. It did, in several ways. I had started that school year on time, but did not play out the string.
South Bend railroad depot, circa. 1900. PCHS #1993.90.10.
| Our good-byes to grandmother
and Davis were said on the evening of March 4th, 1900, my eleventh birthday.
Mother told me that she did not expect to ever see her mother again.
She was right. Earl had sent our baggage to the Northern Pacific
depot and we walked the track to town, caught a streetcar, and spent the
night with the Judds. Mrs. Judd gave me a birthday present, but I’ve
forgotten what it was. She also saw us onto the train the next morning.
Shortly after we came west, we heard that the Judds had moved to Kansas,
and they passed out of our lives.
The branch line train deposited us in Duluth, Minnesota, about eleven a.m. I wanted to see some of the town, but Mother always was a bit timid about traveling and was afraid we might miss our connection if we went out, so we sat in that waiting-room until evening. Another branch line ride connected us with the main line and our tourist sleeper at Brainerd, Minnesota, late that night. Next day we were looking at square miles of snow on North Dakota’s seemingly endless prairies.
|The thought of new scenes always excited me, but anything in excess of an hour’s actual travel was very boring until I was about sixteen. Sometimes I wish I still felt that way about traveling. It would simplify the matter of wanting to go places when I can’t. By the second day, I was fed up with prairies. What with branch lines and layovers, the trip required five and a half days. A driver with a good automobile could make it in that time now without traveling nights. Dad had sent me a watch one Christmas, and we helped each other to pass the time away.||
Ocean Park railroad depot, circa. 1929. PCHS #2004.16.34.
| I recall a late
afternoon stop in the rain at Helena, Mont., followed by the long, slow
climb up the east side of the Rockies. When I awoke in Spokane next
morning there was snow on the ground. The ride across the state of
Washington is a blank except for the N.P.’s tunnel under the summit of
the Cascades, which I timed at four minutes. All we saw of Tacoma
was the lights. Mother said she thought her brother Vern was living
in Tacoma at that time. He never married.
Leaving the train at Chehalis late that night, we were guided to a hotel. The [Willapa Harbor] branch line train would not leave until late the next afternoon, and I could not persuade Mother to go out, so we spent a dull day in the hotel parlor. Anyway, it was raining. We had left Ashland with a big box lunch, and I believe it consisted of a whole roast chicken, a large cake and sandwiches. Those items sustained us across two-thirds of the continent, and by the time we reached Chehalis the remains were as dry as toast (which I have never cared much for anyway). Wishing to save as much as possible of what remained of my uncles’ money, Mother thought we should stick to the week-old lunch, but the hotel had a dining room, and I expressed other ideas. I must have done a fairly able job of expressing them, because I won out.
Editor's Note: This rare photo (PCHS #2004.22.1) of the steam tugboat Edgar comes from the Coulter family photo album and was supplied for this article by Jim Coulter. The Edgar was built in San Francisco, California in 1890 for the North Western Lumber Company. She was 60 feet long, 14 foot in beam, and 6-foot draft. Her engine was a 7x14x12 compound. She went directly to Shoalwater bay from California, and was first commanded by J. H. Sparrow. In 1892, Sparrow was succeeded by A. M. Sproule, Adoniran M. Burnham, and later by J. H. Whitcomb, with Charles Coulter as engineer.
Available sources suggest that the Edgar had a relatively short, but active career on Shoalwater (later Willapa) Bay. She towed logs to the North Western mill in South Bend, carried passengers, including Lee Osborn, and was one of three vessels, which helped move records from Oysterville to South Bend when the county seat moved in 1893. The other vessels, which participated in the famous “raid”, were the Cruiser and the Favorite. A bill for these services was denied by the County Commissioners, who ruled that the service was voluntary.
In 1892, the Edgar carried mail and passengers on a regular schedule to Sealand (Nahcotta) daily (except Sunday), leaving South Bend at 7:30am, and touching at Tokeland and Bay Center on the outbound leg. When business was slow, she would occasionally travel as far as Grays Harbor, and move floating equipment like pile drivers around the Bay.
The Edgar's original cabin was remodeled and enlarged in 1894, and her boiler was replaced in 1898. A new pilot house on the upper deck, as apparently shown in this photo, was also added in 1898.
In 1900, the South Bend Journal noted that the Edgar was carrying campers [tourists?] to Bay Center to purchase Indian baskets, then a popular collecting hobby.
The Edgar continued to work the Bay until 1905, when she was sold to Thomas Soule of Hoquiam. Her ultimate fate is unknown, but the South Bend Journal says she hit a snag in the Chehalis River and sank in 1908.
The above information was gleaned from the South Bend Journal, Pacific County Commissioners Proceedings, The Sou'wester, Willapa Harbor Pilot, and Lewis and Dryden's Maritime History of the Pacific Northwest by J.A.S..
| Uncle Alfred met us at the South
Bend depot that evening and took us to the home of friends to spend the
night. Next morning we went to the dock and boarded the boat for
the final thirty miles. It was the old Edgar, and nothing more than
a medium-sized tug with the house extended back to make a small passenger
cabin. As soon as we left the Willapa River and hit the open bay,
the fun started. We three were the only passengers that day, and
yours truly was the only sick passenger. In nice weather, that old
bay can be a blue-tinted mirror, but during a storm, things are different.
That was one of the very worst days I have ever seen on the water, with
rain and a howling southwest wind to buck, and the old boat was heading
straight into it. She would labor up the side of a big swell, seem
to hang there, then go on over. When she would bury her snout under
the next one and when she lifted again water would be inches deep around
the deck. Uncle Al said that at one place we raced a channel buoy
for an hour without gaining on it. We thought the captain might give
up and turn back, but he didn’t, and we won through about noon Uncle Lyman
greeted us at the dock. (He was always called “Lyme” by family and
friends, and will be that from here on in this narrative). Grandmother
had a good hot dinner waiting. We were back in Nahcotta after an
absence of seven or eight years.
Next day was Sunday and the weather cleared, so we walked the mile to Ocean Park and saw the ocean. My only memory of it from earlier days was of being on the beach once and seeing and smelling a very dead whale.
My grandmother was a good cook, the uncles fine providers, and she had everything to work with. She was the first person I ever knew who made chocolate pie, and she claimed to be the inventor of the recipe. Whether or not she really originated the first chocolate pie recipe, I don’t pretend to know, but as far as she herself was concerned, she did. Vitamins were a thing of the distant future (by name, at least), but I was getting mine. The standard breakfast, as I recall it, was cooked cereal, fried eggs, hotcakes and maybe ham or bacon. Grandmother kept a sourdough can in a warm place behind the range, and hotcakes were a daily feature the year around. They had a cow, so there was plenty of milk and rich cream.
Now, children, it’s time for your geography lesson. The Long Beach peninsula, twenty-five miles long and one mile in width, is a low-lying finger of land pointing due north from the mouth of the Columbia River in the extreme southwest corner of the state. The peninsula is bounded on the west by the ocean, on the north by the entrance to Willapa Harbor, and on the east by the bay. The bay is about eight miles wide at the broadest point, and extends south along the peninsula for twenty miles. At its head the bay is separated from the Columbia River by a neck of land that is about four miles wide at its narrowest point. Nahcotta is situated about midway between the head of the bay and the tip of the peninsula, and on the bay side.
It was a single-dirt-street village, built parallel to the bay shore. Business places were Morehead’s general store, with a lodge hall overhead, which was used for dances and occasional traveling shows and entertainment’s, two small frame hotels, the post office, one saloon, the depot, a blacksmith shop, a defunct bowling alley and a meat market that operated one or two days a week. The blacksmith was named “Peg-leg” Starke; a crusty, hard drinking’ old codger with white whiskers and a wooden leg of the old-fashioned peg variety. His wife was reputed to keep the dirtiest house in town. Her name was Maria (Mar-eye-a, not Ma-ree-a). J. A. Morehead had the best house in town and probably the most money. Anyway, he had the most eventually. The saloon was operated for years by a quarter-breed [sic] named Jim Petit, or Petite. The family seemed to use both spellings and pronounced it Pa-tee. Jim’s wife was a nice woman with about the same amount of “warwhoop” in her veins. They had at least eight kids, adding substantially to the school population.
Most of the houses were south of the business section, and between them and the bay was a smooth stretch of grassy tideland about a hundred yards wide. The Osborn home sat in that section with its back to the bay, and must have rated about second best at that time. The house was a story and a half high, with two bedrooms upstairs. Downstairs were an entrance hall, parlor, bedroom and sewing room in the main part, with a good-sized lean-to kitchen. Grandmother’s combined living and bedroom was in an “L” to the north of the kitchen. All rooms in the main part of the house were rather small. The house was approximately my age and had just been given a new coat of white paint. The waterworks was a pitcher pump on the side porch just outside the kitchen door. A big garden in the back yard extended all the way across and behind the house to the south, too.
This is the way Nahcotta looked about 1909. Railroad oar shops at left. Two-story buildings, left to right, Bayview Hotel and Moreheads store. Lodge hall over store was used by "Maccabees", both ladies and gents chapters. Willapa Bay is beyond. Those fir trees grew quite large eventually, but I can remember them when they were little taller than a man. Nahcotta is pronounced with the first syllable taking on the "gnu" sound very briefly, with the accent on the "cotta". It may be an Indian word; who knows? PCHS #2004.33.2
The Nahcotta Schoolhouse. Ken Bale Collection, PCHS #2004.16.37
| Mentioning the old pump brings
to mind that right there is probably one of the world’s easiest places
to get a well. Here’s how you do it. Screw a well-point onto
a length of pipe, select your site, chug pipe down about fourteen feet,
pump the loose sand out and there’s your well. The entire operation
seldom takes more than two or three hours, the soil being damp and almost
The schoolhouse was across the road and over a little hill, and although the term was short, school was still going. I was disgusted at having to break in at a new school, and horrified to learn that it was necessary to go to the store and buy a complete set of books and materials. Those things had been free in the Pratt and Ashland schools, and I had never heard of such a thing. The school was one big bare room with an extremely high ceiling. Seats were built for two and we sat double. It was customary to have a sort of marching drill up and down the aisles and around the seat rows before school took up in the morning, and one of the girls would play the old organ.
Swimming hole and a sailing oyster boat. PCHS #2004.16.
|Three long poles were braced against the
north side of the building to keep the southwest storms from bowling it
over, but it stood till it burned down nearly thirty-five years later.
The teacher was a middle-aged man named Nels Murdock, who was partly bald.
His home was in South Bend and he would go there every other Saturday.
The boat did not return until Monday forenoon, so we had a half-holiday
every two weeks, and I don’t know whether or not the time was ever made
up. He boarded in Oysterville and hiked the four miles morning and
When I said that schoolroom was bare, I meant it. Mr. M. didn’t even put up a picture of Washington or Lincoln. Attendance numbered about thirty, ranging in size from tots to several who were nearly grown up. In memory I can still hear the old bell. It always needed oiling and squeaked badly.
Memory says I had a pretty good time that summer. There were lots of things for a kid to do and plenty of kids around to do them. My uncles had new bicycles and decided that I should have a means of locomotion, too, so they dug up an old bike and put it in good condition. It was full size and too high for me, so they removed the seat post and fastened the seat to the frame. By sliding a little, I could reach the pedals, but it must have been wearing on pants seats. I took it out onto the tideland where there was a nice soft place to fall off and persevered till I got the hang of it. All roads were sandy, so the citizens had built a mile-long walk to Ocean Park, three planks wide and primarily for bicycle riders. Riding on the hard ocean beach was fun, too.
The old bike dumped me a few times, and one of those spills probably was as spectacular as any that ever was taken from a bicycle. About midway between Nahcotta and Ocean Park was a short but steep hill. Alfred Petite and I were returning from the beach one day, and as we started down the hill we lifted our feet from the pedals and let nature take its course. Our machines were not equipped with coaster brakes. Well, it so happened that a young man and a girl were strolling in the same direction, just beyond the foot of the hill. We really were rolling, with Al in the lead. He let out a shrill whistle. Al could do that without using any fingers. They stepped off the walk, but as soon as he got by them, they started right back. By then it was too late for me to yell or do anything about it. The right handle bar ticked the girl’s left arm and the bike and I went to the left, parting company completely. I landed in a sitting position on a smooth patch of short grass, and must have skidded nearly ten feet on my stern post. The bike wasn’t damaged, but the handlebars had slipped and were pointing fore and aft. I wasn’t scratched, bruised, or even shaken up, and the girl was unhurt. If she had moved in a split second sooner, or if I had arrived an instant later, she would have been badly injured, if not killed, and I would not have been so lucky.
The uncles always owned a skiff or two, and I had permission to use them when the weather was good, so I learned to row. Sometimes the boat would be high and dry when I wanted it and I would nearly tug my innards out getting it into the water. It all depended on the stage of the tide. Back on Lake Superior it had not been necessary to learn about tides, although that great body of pure drinking water does have tides that rise and fall two or three inches. (If you don’t believe that statement, look it up some time when you have a spare moment).
While I never had a swimming lesson, I learned a little about it from the other kids. Gile’s slough, a mile north, had a sand bottom and there was enough water at high tide. On a sunny day, the water would warm up to a pleasant degree as it came in over the wide flats. Occasionally we went in the bay off Nahcotta, too.
| Three or four of the lads had
model sailboats and I wanted one, so when there was a chance to pick up
a two-foot hull for a dime I grabbed it. My uncles installed a schooner
rig, two sails and a jib, and several pounds of lead keel. Weighted
with all that lead, the other boats would leave it far behind in a light
breeze, but in a strong wind it could walk away from all of them.
There was a good native oyster business on the bay, and many sailboats to handle it. They were known locally as “plungers”, and probably averaged about forty feet in length. They were decked over, with a small cabin and carried one big sail and a jib, and were steered with a tiller. They were also equipped with centerboards to lessen side drift. Two or three boats had schooner rig, and there were a few of the flat bottom, or bateau, type. Some of the plungers were fairly fast sailors. One or two owners tried installing gasoline “kickers,” but they weren’t very successful at that early stage of the game. Gas boats were a novelty, there being only two or three that I can recall, and they were not used for oystering. Grandest sight in that part of the country occurred when as many as two dozen plungers were heading up the bay to the oyster beds, their sails leaning into a stiff breeze.
Oregon Washington Railroad & Navigation narrow gauge locomotive Number 5 makes a station stop on the North Beach Peninsula some time after the Union Pacific Railroad had purchased control of the line. During Lee's day, the railroad was still known as the Ilwaco Railroad and Navigation Company. PCHS #9-27-91(8).
| A narrow gauge railroad connected
Nahcotta with Ilwaco, sixteen miles south, and near the mouth of the Columbia
River. The track was thirty-six inch gauge, as compared with four
feet eight and a half inch standard gauge. It was the Ilwaco Railway
& Navigation Co., owned by peninsula capital, and operated a boat that
connected Ilwaco with Astoria, Oregon, across the river. The passenger
cars had open platforms and the dangerous old link and pin couplers.
I believe they were equipped with air brakes, but am not sure. Anyway,
the three little locomotives were wood-burners and cute. Spare engines
were stored in Ilwaco, but the car shops were at Nahcotta, and most of
the cars were kept there. The boys used the car shop for a rainy
day hangout, and it was a good place to play hide-and-seek (we called it
“hide-and-go-seek”). Cars were unlocked and we never got chased out.
|Many Portland people owned or rented summer cottages in the small towns up and down the beach, while others stopped at hotels. They made good business for the little trains. The train spent nights in Nahcotta, making two daily round trips in summer and one in winter. There was good freight business, too. The railroad went to the end of the dock, three-eighths of a mile to deep water, and there was no charge for riding out and back. The mile ride to Ocean Park was free, too.|
H. H. Johnson's Bayview Hotel, Nahcotta, Washington, circa. 1900. PCHS #8-21-64(5).
| There was no church, but Ocean
Park had a little Sunday school chapel, and the home folks thought it would
be nice if I attended. Here is an incident that wasn’t very funny,
but it struck me so then: Dave Hood was a cutup whose mother and
grandmother were two of the leading lights in the Sunday school.
The superintendent was Captain Kimball, a retired army man who was good
on a cornet, although the cornet had nothing to do with this incident.
When it came time to take the collection, each child was handed a string
of sleigh bells, and we were supposed to jingle them and sing a song while
the plate was being passed. The chorus went this way:
“Hear the pennies dropping, Listen while they fall, Every one for Jesus, He will get them all.”About half the time Dave would sing it;
" " " " " " " " “Every one for Kimball, he will get them all.”In later years, the Methodists built a nice little church in ocean Park.
Ocean Park was, and still is, a small beach resort town with a fair number of permanent residents. It is located behind a sand ridge covered with stunted trees and some houses, which cuts off the view of the ocean but helps to break the strong winds. Incidentally, that beach is claimed to be the longest on the Pacific Coast, being broken by just one small fresh water slough in twenty-five miles. When the tide is out the beach is hard and smooth. Some Portland motorcycle club now holds a race meet at Long Beach each summer. And it seems that every time they do that, at least one of their number gets killed. Another feature of that beach is the famous razor clam.
| In the old sailing ship days,
that beach had the reputation of being a graveyard for ships, and I can
recall some of the wrecks. The U. S. Life Saving Service (later Coast
Guard) had a fairly busy station two miles south of Ocean Park, later discontinued,
since steamships are less prone to go ashore than the old windjammers were
[for more about the Klipsan Beach station see Vol.
XXXVI, No. 3, Fall, 2001 Sou’wester]. Some of the shipwrecked
sailors married local girls and stayed right there. In fact, I know
one man from a British ship who landed some fifty years ago, and is still
there. One wreck near Long Beach had its humorous angle. It
happened long before my time, probably in the 1870s. The ship was
the little Harvest Home, loaded with iron cookstoves and Studebaker
wagons. It being a fine calm night, with nothing to worry about,
every man on board got drunk and went to sleep. Well, the story goes
that the mate was the first to come-to next morning, and he went on deck
to have a look around. Re immediately returned below and roused the
captain. He said, “Captain, where do you suppose we are?” Captain:
“I dunno, where are we?” Mate: “‘Well, sir, it looks to me
like we’re in somebody1s barnyard. We’re surrounded by cows.”
(Later information: Harvest Home was wrecked January 18,
The Harvest Home was an oak ship, and some of her “bones” were still sticking out of the beach sand until just a few years ago. No doubt they would be there yet if local citizens hadn’t blasted them to clear the beach. Local farmers were still using some of those wagons thirty years after they “rescued” them.
Steamer Nahcotta, operated by the Ilwaco Railway & Navigation Co. on the Astoria-Ilwaco run in the 1890s and early 1900s. Although she was no great shakes for looks, she had to buck a lot of rough weather there near the mouth of the mighty Columbia. She was a twin-screw boat, meaning that she had two propellers driven by separate engines. That type of boat can turn around on a dime and give you back a nickel in change, as the saying goes; the trick is, to run one engine ahead and reverse the other one. This picture is somewhat blurred, but the only one I could find. PCHS #2004.16.24
| Getting back to
that summer in Nahcotta: Life wasn’t all play. One of my chores
was keeping that big garden thoroughly weeded and manicured. A full
woodbox was another requirement. Grandmother tended her own flower
garden in the front yard.
We had received no notice that Dad was on his way home, but he arrived that summer in the middle of a night. He was practically fundless and had worked his way from California to Astoria in the cook’s galley of a steam schooner. I never learned how he got across the Columbia, but he hoofed the sixteen miles from Ilwaco, for lack of a better means of locomotion. Over a period of nearly four years, he had shown little evidence of interest in his family’s welfare, and Mother was bitter about that. She wasn’t well, and she couldn’t seem to let the matter rest, so there was almost constant bickering. My presence made no difference, and I was unhappy about the whole affair. Dad threatened to leave again, but that was as far as it went.
|My uncles were operating a wood business at that time, and Dad went to work with them. They cut the fir logs near the bay and about three miles south of town and rafted them home. They used a little steam donkey to pull the logs onto the tideland, and the donkey furnished steam for a dragsaw. The logs were cut into stove-length blocks and split into slabs. When they had deliveries to make, they used a team and wagon belonging to Mr. Morehead, the merchant. While they were logging they batched in an old scowhouse, and I had fun spending a night there occasionally. Later on, Dad worked on reconstruction of the dock. We made the acquaintance of a man named Jack McMillan, who was working on the dock too, and he will come into the story later on and in another locality.|
In early days, the Columbia River boasted many boats, which were noted for speed and the luxury of their passenger accommodations, and the T. J. Potter was one of the largest and most famous. Built in Portland, Oregon in 1888, she was 230 feet long. Rebuilt and lengthened four feet in 1901, the new hull lines spoiled her speed. Her upper works were removed intact from the still older Wide West, and altered only enough to allow for the big side wheels, for the Wide West was a stern-wheeler. The remodeling spoiled her looks to some extent, too, but she was still the boat on the Portland - Astoria run. (This old photo shows her as she was originally.) At one time, she was shifted to Puget Sound and tried on the Seattle - Tacoma run, but that was a mistake. In the slightest swell, she would roll and ponderously lift first one wheel and then the other out of the water, thereby making her strictly a river boat. Condemned in 1916 and scrapped in 1925, her old keel and ribs lay bleaching on the beach at Astoria for years. PCHS #11-12-86(2)
| Grandfather was at home part
of that summer. He was a small man, but still quite active and clever
with an axe or crosscut saw at the age of sixty-eight. In his younger
days, he had been an expert swimmer, and could stay afloat for hours.
One of his pleasures was to find the toughest old knot in the woodshed
and work it down to cookstove size. He had arrived in Nahcotta about
1889 and, I believe, taken a contract to clear part of the town-site, so
the village must have been fairly new then. He had served in a Wisconsin
infantry company during the Civil War. At the time of the war, he
was a family man already, and I’ve heard that he did not engage in any
of the actual fighting. In later years, much of his time was spent
at the Old Soldiers’ Home at Orting, Wash. That was not at all necessary
from the standpoint of economics, but he liked it there and enjoyed being
with his cronies. He had a small pension that was sufficient to keep
him supplied with tobacco and other little luxuries. I understood
that he worshipped Grandmother, but that the sentiment was not mutual.
She wasn’t in the habit of scolding or nagging, but simply ignored him
as much as possible, and they used separate bedrooms whenever he was at
home. Anyhow, he was a nice old man in my estimation.
These stories have been handed down: Grandfather worked out a novel method of punishment for his boys when they were at the spankable age. When one of them committed a capital crime he would be promised a tanning three or four days in the future, at a certain time on a certain date, and Gramp never forgot. It seems that when he placed a boy across his knees he used a sort of lateral or sliding motion of the palm, and it felt like it was taking a chunk right out.
Gramp didn’t smoke when I knew him, but he had taken up chewing at the ripe old age of eight, and he was seldom without a cud, except while eating or sleeping. Also, his hat was never far away.
When the family moved to Nebraska in the late ’60s, they lived temporarily in a sod house, as many settlers did then. On retiring at night, Gramp would hang his hat on one of the bed’s headposts, and his first act on getting up in the morning would be to clap it on his head. Then he would take a chew and be all ready for the business of dressing. It might be inferred from the above that he was uncivilized, but you’re wrong.
The sod house was dug into the head of a little ravine, so that the back edge of the roof was level with the flat prairie. One day in a heavy snow storm, a man drove his team and wagon onto the roof before he discovered where he was. They didn’t break through. Uncle Alfred, last of the four boys, was born in that sod house. The farm later became the site of the small town of Beaver Crossing, Nebraska, about forty miles west of Lincoln. I’ve heard Dad tell of seeing Buffalo Bill Cody, who was a young man then, ride through there with his hair unkempt and his whiskers stained with tobacco juice.
This little gem goes back to the time when I was three years old: Grandfather and I sat opposite whenever we had a meal at his house, and the instant I finished eating I would fire my spoon at him. Everyone laughed, but I believe it had him worried. It got so that he would watch for me to down the last spoonful, then he would get ready to duck.
It’s 1900 again: Uncle Alfred was married that summer, the bride being Maud Williams, of Nemah, across the bay. Grandmother did not like the match and he didn’t bring her home to live. He was about thirty years of age and she was seven or eight years younger. That gave me an Aunt Maude and an Aunt Maud, but I had not yet met the one with the “e”.
When fall came, I enrolled at the old school, where Mr. Murdock was the teacher again, but it didn’t last long. Dad soon landed a job somewhere across the bay and moved Mother and me into a house in Oysterville, four miles north of Nahcotta. I never knew why Oysterville. Ocean Park would have been much handier, and I wouldn’t have had to change schools. Ocean Park had plenty of vacant furnished houses in winter. Maybe it was a case of getting free rent for looking after the place. Electricity was more than twenty years away for all those towns. Oysterville was a more primitive village than Nahcotta, with no railroad or dock, although one of the owners of the railroad had his home there. It had been the seat of Pacific County in pioneer days.
The old Pacific County Courthouse in Oysterville after it collapsed in a high wind. PCHS #1994.99.66.
| According to a reprinted article
clipped from the South Bend Journal, the little old court house was built
in 1875. In February, 1893, about eighty citizens of South Bend boarded
boats for Oysterville and removed the county records, over the protests
of county officials and other residents. The lone county jail prisoner
was removed to South Bend, too. South Bend won the legal battles
and has been the county seat from that time on. Oysterville was too
isolated, anyway. For a brief time the old courthouse served as “Peninsula
College,” the only institution of higher learning Pacific County has ever
boasted. In its declining years it was used as a barn on the Harry
Espy farm, and that is the way I remember it. The big wind storm
of 1940 flattened it.
| The house we moved into belonged
to a lady named Greenman, and was old, fairly large and cheerless.
I started to the one-room school and liked the teacher, who was Mrs. Murdock,
wife of the Nahcotta teacher. Mother’s health was failing rapidly
and she soon got too sick to take care of herself or the house, so it was
decided to send her to Ilwaco, where there was a doctor. We had lived
in Oysterville a month or less, and I was sent back to grandma. The
boys gave me a good-natured guying when I turned up at the old school again.
Mother boarded at first with a family named Bohn, and the doctor diagnosed her trouble as quick consumption. Dad went to Ilwaco and I was soon instructed to follow. He engaged a house next door to the Bohns’ and Uncle Alfred and Aunt Maud moved in to take care of us. Uncle had landed a job with an outfit that was logging just back of town. I started in at my third school (one of them twice) within a couple of months.
Ilwaco school. Jim Poage collection. PCHS #8-28-70(8).
| Mother died about
one A. M., January 2nd, 1901. Gord Lahr was there and some neighbor
women came in at the last. She had known she was going and asked
them not to wake me. She had occupied the front room, and the undertaker-furniture
dealer came and placed her in the casket in that room. I did not
see her until she was in the casket. She was dressed in a dark skirt
and white shirt waist and looked nice. As was my morning custom,
I went for the milk. It was a school day, and as I was walking along
the main street, I met a teacher who knew me. She said, “Good morning,
Lee. How’s your mother?” I wasn’t feeling too bright and my
reply was brief and to the point. I said, “She’s dead,” and walked
on. That poor woman looked like she would have welcomed a good deep
hole to fall into. The funeral was held in the hall over Morehead’s
store in Nahcotta. After the service, the casket was placed in a
farm wagon and the family and friends followed on foot to the little Ocean
Park cemetery. It was a raw, damp day, and I believe it had snowed
I’m afraid I can’t look back on the balance of that winter as a happy time of my childhood. Dad left shortly after the funeral, and I saw little of him. I was lonesome as a lost dog and would dream nights of Wisconsin and wish I was back there. Not that that would have helped any. My first sleep walking occurred then. I was in the hall headed for the front room when the sound of my fingers dragging across the wallpaper woke me, and I slunk back to my bed. My uncle and aunt were kind, but they were just starting out in married life, and having an extra mouth to feed must have been a drain on them. Never at any time did it occur to Dad that he was obligated to pay board or buy clothes for me when I was parked with other people. Due to his financial standing, or lack of it, Uncle Alfred had paid Mother’s burial expenses.
The house was all on the second floor, the ground floor being an old bowling alley that extended far into the back yard. Fortunately, the bowling alley was not in use then. My principal duty was splitting wood and carrying it up a long flight of back stairs, and I can still see myself futilely hacking away at those practically unsplitable spruce knots.
The school had about four teachers, and mine was Miss Daisy Colbert, a local girl. I believe she was a good teacher, but she practiced a little ritual that was never varied, and I decided that it could stand shortening. It went like this:
| Ilwaco must have harbored about
600 people then, many of them being good citizens of Finnish extraction
and their families, and called “Rooshian Finns” by some of the others.
Blocks were laid out somewhat city fashion and the main stem was about
four blocks long. It was planked and the railroad ran through the
middle of it and went on to the end of the dock. There was no electricity,
but the town fathers had hung a powerful gasoline light over the main intersection,
and it did fairly well.
Our house was a block from that crossing on a side street, the last one in that direction and near the edge of the woods.
Our neighbor, Mr. Bohn, ran the weekly newspaper, and the family lived over the print shop. The Bohns had a boy and a girl about my age, and the houses were close enough together so that we holler back and forth. Kids used that street for a playground, and I believe Mr. B. had a tough time concentrating on his editorials. He got even once a week, though; his press was powered by an engine with no muffler.
Wooden walk between Nahcotta and Ocean Park. PCHS #2004-16-34
| One spring day Dad
was in Ilwaco (pronounced Il-walk-o), and he, Uncle Alfred and I met the
boat from Astoria. I wondered why and soon found out. It was
well loaded with distant relatives named Brachvogel (Brockvogel).
They had rented a house in Nahcotta and planned to spend the summer there.
I had never heard of them. They came from Colorado, but had moved
to Portland, and the old man had been left there to try and earn a living.
The boatload consisted of four kids, their mother and grandmother.
The kids were Albert and Max, Jr., a year younger and a year older than
myself, respectively, and two small fry, Rosaline and Teddy. The
grandma was a pleasant little old widow named “Aunt” Rosa McClellan.
She was Grandfather Osborn’s first cousin, making my relationship to the
kids pretty thin. (Al was older than Max.).
| A pleasant summer pastime in
Ilwaco was a trip to the dock about nine o’clock of a Saturday night to
watch the boat from Portland bring in the weekend crop of vacationers.
The train would be there to distribute them to the various beach towns.
The boat was the old “T. J. Potter,” one of the biggest
sidewheel steamers in the business. On a clear dark night, we could
spot her big searchlight while she was still miles up the river, swinging
from side to side to pick up the channel markers. There was a bit
of additional excitement one night just as the Potter was docking, when
a man fell off the dock into the water. He was fished out in good
I was shipped back to Grandma and Nahcotta for the summer, and was there in May when word came that Uncle Alfred and Aunt Maud presented me with a brand new cousin. They named her Hazel, in honor of their neighbor, the Bohn girl.
| This is as good a place as any
to say that my grandmother and I got along together beautifully.
No doubt, I provoked her at times, but she had reared four boys’ of her
own and was aware of the score.
Much of my spare time that summer of 1901 was taken up by the Brachvogel offspring. We got along fairly well most of the time, but they were fresh city kids and I would have been just as happy if not more so, had they remained in Portland. Dad and Uncle Lyme were around home at least part of the summer.
When it was time for school to reopen, I was sent back to Ilwaco, and a controversy soon arose between Uncle Alfred and the school board. The honorable board maintained that I was not a resident of Ilwaco, and therefore should be required to pay tuition. Unk was just as firm in his theory that as long as I made my home with him Ilwaco was my home town. The board must have won out, and I returned to Nahcotta after about one month, getting another late start. Before I left Ilwaco, Dad passed through there, saying he was going to California and try mining again.
I can’t walk out on Ilwaco for good without mentioning Charley Rogers, the druggist’s son. Good old Charley must have been one in a million. He was sitting in front of me the day I found a pin. I don’t believe I was naturally cruel at heart, but the temptation to reach under the desk and poke that pin up through the seat crack was just too much. Charley yelped, and when Miss Colbert asked him what the trouble was he simply said “nothing,” and kept a straight face (generally known in the middle ‘40s as a “dead pan”). And he never mentioned the incident afterward, although we weren’t particularly close friends, and I had a right to expect something.
Grandmother and I had the old home to ourselves that winter, as Grandfather was in Orting, and Uncle Lime had followed Dad to California. As stated previously Grandmother and I got along together very well, and by this time, I was getting accustomed to life without parents. Partly through her influence, I became interested in reading, and she gave me a book each Christmas and birthday over a period of years. She was about sixty-two then, rather tall and slender, and her health was never very good. She was only about seventeen years older than her oldest son, so she must have been married at the age of fifteen or sixteen. When she was about sixty, she took up photography as a hobby and did very well at it. The camera was a big black box that used four by five inch glass plates, and she rigged up a darkroom in a closet and did her own developing. Printing was done on the side porch on sunny days. I still have an album of those old pictures, although they are badly faded. A few of them are used to help illustrate these Ramblings after a fashion. [editor: It would be nice to know where the old album went.]
| Arthur Skidmore, of South Bend,
was the teacher that year, and apparently, he took more interest in his
work than Mr. Murdock had. At least, he didn’t lay off to go home,
and there were pictures all over the place. He staged an elaborate
Christmas program in Morehead’s hall, and in one act I was dressed up as
Uncle Sam, even to whiskers of frayed out rope. The only other thing
I can recall about that show was the singing of a girl named Maude Miller,
who was about my age. She could sing like an angel when she was small,
but I heard that she lost some of her talent as she grew up. She
died when she was about eighteen.
Several members of the Matthew’s family were in school, and they are worthy of mention owing to the peculiar names their parents had wished onto them. Only the girl had anything that resembled a conventional name. Here they are, with nicknames in (parentheses): Sedgwick (Sedge), Valverd (Val), Muriel (Merl), Zhetley (Zip), Threllwood (Pate), and Thadford (Teddy). Why grownups would wish handles like those onto innocent babies is beyond understanding.
Arthur Skidmore, county school teacher. PCHS #9-13-73-10.
| Those days, it was
customary for teachers to assign long and boring poems to be memorized
and recited at holiday times and closing exercises, and sometimes just
for the heck of it. And the mamas and papas would be invited to sit
in. So it came as a surprise that spring (1902) when Mr. Skidmore
told us we might choose our own poems for the closing exercises.
I saw a chance to have a little fun and get even for some of the long ones
I had been compelled to learn. My selection didn’t come out of any
school book. It contained just two verses, and I only remember the
first one. It went like this:
“Those pills, those pills, those cathartic pills;A titter went through the room and Grandma didn’t quite succeed in keeping her face straight. I felt good.
Every Saturday, as regular as clockwork, Grandmother made a big batch of sugar cookies, and she kept them in a big black tin box in the pantry. I always returned from school hungry, but wouldn’t admit it, so she never suggested that I have a couple of cookies to hold me till dinner time. I got around that by raiding the tin box when she was conveniently elsewhere. I know now that she would have been deeply insulted if I hadn’t.
Our cow had been sold when the men went away, but I didn’t get completely away from cows. A neighbor offered me two-bits a week to drive his cow home nights. She would be almost anywhere in the woods, and I would have to locate her by the sound of her bell. Every time I found her, she would make a bluff at chasing me, and when I bluffed right back, she would start for home. Then the instant she got in the corral she would whirl and get ready to charge, so I had to slam the gate in a hurry.
Some time during the spring, Dad or Uncle Lyme wrote saying they could use a housekeeper, and suggesting that Grandmother and I pack up and go to California. School was out early, as the term ran only seven months, but we took our time and didn’t get going for several weeks, or until about June. We rode the little train to Ilwaco and took the steamer Nahcotta to Astoria, where we boarded an old sternwheeler for the trip up the river. The famous old Bailey Gatzert, which was on the run regularly, had taken an excursion crowd out the day before and didn’t get back in time, so this old ark replaced her. It didn’t have even electric lights. We arrived in Portland next morning about four hours late. Not that it mattered. Grandmother wanted to visit with the Brachvogels, and we were there about a week.
Editor’s Note: Osborn traveled by train to Kennett, a mining town in Northern California. His father worked as a mechanical engineer near Kennett, and later at Sisson (now Mt. Shasta). Some years later Lee returned to Southwest Washington. In the spring of 1918 he met, and later married Jane Winnifred Hopkins, a school teacher in Raymond, Washington. The couple ended up settling in Tacoma, where Winnifred was a librarian. Lee started writing his memoirs in the 1940s. Lee Risley Osborn passed away in 1961. Copies of his “Ramblings” are available through the Timberland Library system, or at the Pacific County Museum in South Bend.
A slow day in downtown Nahcotta, circa 1900. Morehead's store is on the right, and the Bayview Hotel on the left. The Bayview Hotel was purchased by oysterman Fred Katzer in the 1920s and barged over to South Bend where it served as the Katzer Apartments until demolition in the 1960s. The I.R.&N. Railroad tracks pass through the middle of town and out to deep water on a pier. The Ilwaco railroad car shops were located in Nahcotta, behind the photographer. James A. Heath Collection, PCHS #2001.33.