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This recollection was written by Inez Poe Smith but I do not know when. She does not mention the dam built on the Santiam River in 1953 so this story may have been composed before then.
She was born March 14, 1890 and lived to be over 100 years old. It is possible she also called upon the memory of her older sister for some these stories (older brother David died in 1936).
This is a tale of the Poe family’s experience homesteading in Oregon in the 1890’s. Robert Meeks Poe and his wife, Martha Sherrick Poe, and three children, David, Florence (my grandmother) and Inez, moved from Hancock County, Ohio to Oregon in 1890 to homestead a timber claim in Marion County. Three more children were born in Oregon; Thelma, Stanley and Barbara. They returned to Ohio in 1900.
“The Oregon Home Story” by Inez Poe Smith
My parents, Robert and Martha Poe, emigrated from Findlay, Ohio to the state of Oregon in 1890, going to Chicago and then on via the Great Northern Railroad. I was a babe less than a year old, brother Dave was six years old and sister Flossie three.
At this time Oregon was quite different from the present time. It was settled to a certain extent, but you didn’t leave the city very far behind before entering the beautiful raw forest country. It was into these forests that my parents staked out a United States timber claim. It was about forty miles northeast of Albany at a little village called Detroit, and about one mile from this town they settled on a quarter section of virgin timber land. When you take up a claim, you are required to live on the land for three years before you can receive your grant from the government, so my father built a four room log cabin with a lean-to kitchen. It was in this house my sister Thelma was born in 1893.
Our house was surrounded by forest, and to reach the town you followed a trail through the woods. For water there was no worry, as plenty if icy cold springs were near at hand.
There were plenty of hardships to endureduring those first years, but I was too young to realize them. My father worked in the woods helping to get the trees cut down and to the sawmill. This was done by oxen pulling the felled trees to the chutes or skidways. The logs were rolled down the mountainside into the river. Experienced log rollers would direct them down the river to the mill to be sawed into lumber.
One of my earliest recollections was the annoying experience of being routed out of bed at night along with my older brother and sister, and carried to a dugout or storm cellar, a short distance from the house, and here laid on deer skins on the earthen floor to finish the night’s sleep. When the wind blew in the giant trees, there was a real danger of one crashing down on the house. If you have heard the wind blowing through a few pine trees, imagine how it would sound blowing through a large forest, where they grow two or three hundred feet tall. The trees sway back and forth in the wind and the noise is like the roar of the Niagara. The strange thing about a storm there is that you can hear the noise of the wind but cannot feel it, for the denseness of the forest prevents it from coming through and it is all in the tops of the trees.
I have heard my parents tell of many thrilling experiences which happened while they lived in the woods. Among them is this one. Every log house had a corner sawed out of a door for the cat to go in and out. One night my father and mother were awakened by a noise as if something was walking across the floor. Father arose and lighted the lamp and, sure enough, there was a nice black and white “kitty”………but it belonged to the polecat family. Since we had our winter supply of flour, sugar and other provisions in the kitchen, you can believe they did not try to hurry their midnight caller, but let him take his own sweet time going – which he finally did.
Another experience happened in the fall of the year. When our feathered friends made their long journey south, great flocks of wild geese would fly over our cabin. At dusk, father would build a huge bonfire in the clearing. As the geese flew over, they would become blinded by the light and come toward the fire, making it easy to capture them. Sometimes they would light on the roof of the house and slide to the ground. Once, my mother said she opened the door and a big fat goose fell right at her feet and she grabbed him before he could get away. My mother was a wonderful cook.
Father often told of hair-raising experiences he had in the forest. One I remember best happened as he was returning home one night. Everyone carried a lantern when going through the forest at night, but on this occasion, just as he reached the edge of the forest, his lantern ran out of oil. He decided to go on without it for he knew every foot of the trail. As he walked in the dark forest, he heard a sound as if someone was walking behind him. He stopped and shouted “Hello there”, but received no answer. Finally, deciding he was just imagining things, he started on again, but again he heard the same noise. By this time he was really frightened. Turning, he started backing down the trail with his gun held in front of him until he came to a clearing. Then, he turned and ran until he reached home. He always thought he was being stalked by a mountain lion, as they were common in that part of the country. It was said if they were hungry they would attack a man. As a child, I can remember these animals brought into town with their feet tied together and hanging on a pole, carried on the shoulders of a couple of men.
After proving-up on the claim, my parents moved into a new frame house which father built in the village of Detroit. It was here that my brother, Stanley, and my sister, Barbara, were born. Father was postmaster here and also ran the general store. Here we could enjoy a few more comforts of life and mix with other folks in a social way. However, mother always said her happiest days were spent in the big forest.
I remember eating only wild meat while we lived there, with the exception of chicken. Whenever we ran short of meat, father and a neighbor or two would get their guns and go on a hunting expedition. I can remember seeing them return home, each one with a deer across his back.
The forest was full of wild animals such as elk (father killed four of these while in Oregon), deer, cougars, wildcats, lynx and marten. They sometimes captured the wildcats and put them in a cage. If anyone was so foolish as to put his finger in the cage, it could be badly clawed.
The rivers and streams abounded in fish, the most delectable of all being the rainbow trout. The Sentiam and Britenbush rivers meet here, and there is still good fishing there. In the spring, when the snow, which had piled up all winter on the mountains, began to thaw, the rivers became raging torrents, overflowing and uprooting large trees, carrying them downstream with tremendous force. One who has always lived here in Ohio has no idea of the power and force of western streams and rivers when the snow is melting in the mountains.
The climate was delightful, except for a few weeks of the rainy season which didn’t seem to bother folks much. There were no roads then, and if you wanted to take a trip through the forest you went on horseback and followed a trail. If you expected to stay a while, you took an extra horse to carry your luggage. My father sometimes went to Albany by handcar. They are now driven by motors, but then several men would make the trip together and would carry long poles and push the car along. They would bring back provisions such as dried fruit, prunes, flour, sugar and sometimes mail when the train could not get through.
Not too far from Detroit were hot springs where folks from Portland and Albany often went for steam baths. These springs were located on the bank of a river. The water in this river was icy cold year around. My father used to say that one could stand on the bank of this river and catch a fish, throw the line over his shoulder and cook the fish in the hot springs without moving from one spot. The rivers were full of rocks and boulders and the water ran so swiftly that if you fell into one of them you stood small chance of getting out alive, no matter how well you might be able to swim.
Beautiful ferns and moss carpeted the forest and madonna and tiger lilies grew wild in profusion. In the shade, dainty lady slippers bloomed, and in the clearings or burned-over land, mountain laurel grew to a height of ten or fifteen feet, and when in blossom made a gorgeous sight.
One of the delights of my childhood was to be allowed to go with my brother on a fishing or hunting trip. The first fish I ever caught was with him.
The winters there were mild compared to the winters in Ohio. The snow fell to a depth of three or four feet, and stayed where it fell, not piling up in drifts as it often does here. The snow would slide off our roof until our windows were nearly covered, and had to be shoveled away. Many times we would almost have to tunnel our way to the store next door. What fun we would have sliding down the mountains in the wintertime, sometimes on a sled and sometimes on a deer skin. These were the Cascade mountains. In the summer we loved to go into the shade of the forest where we found plenty of cold spring water, and water cress, ferns and flowers grew.
One might think there was no social life in so small a town and in the midst of great mountains, but this is not so. Everybody living within a reasonable distance of Detroit came to town often to visit and for supplies. The town hall, which my grandfather, David Sherrick, built and gave the town, was used for social gatherings. There they played progressive pedro and danced the quadrille, waltz and square dance, but on Saturday night they stopped before midnight, cleaned the hall and all came out to church on Sunday. Once in a while a minister would come from a nearby town and preach for us. The hall served as a school through the week.
We only had one railroad through the town, and the company which owned the railroad took advantage of the people who owned the timberland, charging such tremendous freight prices to carry the lumber out to the cities that it was not profitable. Then, the railroad company came in and bought up many of the claims, father’s included. Father then decided to leave the homestead and return to Ohio. Here we settled on a farm about a mile and a half from McComb, where sister Violet was born.
Inez Poe Smith