BY EARLE RICHARDSON
There is a great deal of romance in the life of any man. Day by day, and year by year it accumulates, leaving within his memory a vast recollection that he alone is privileged to call to life. And in the end he passes on into that great beyond; the book is closed and in most cases lost forever to those who follow after.
So it is with my father, Milt Richardson. He was born in 1848, in early winter, December 3, 1848, a short distance below Portland at the home of Jimmie Johns, the present site of St. Johns. He was the first child born after the Solomon Richardson family reached Oregon and his life span of almost 72 years covered the period of development from a few scattered settlements of pioneer ranchers to a great and prosperous state. Portland in those days was a mere village and the settlers did their trading at Vancouver, post o the Hudson Bay Company.
The spot chosen for the future home of the Richardson family, upon which they settled a few years later, was virgin wilderness, covered with large fir timber. Their donation land claim near Tigard stretched from the rolling hillsides on the north across to the lower Tualatin river, a meandering, sluggish stream which rises in Wapato lake near the Washington-Yamhill county line and flows northeasterly into the Willamette. It drains a marvelously fertile country with spots of beaverdam land unexcelled for truck garden and intensive crop porduction.
It was here that something like 35 years of my father's life were spent--his youth and young manhood and a part of his mature years. The story of those years was best known only to himself and my knowledge of them is only a fragmentary sketch gathered from occasional reminiscences and talks with old time friends. It was never my privilege to revisit with him the scenes of his boyhood and hear from his lips the recollections that such a visit would have brought forth.
At an early age, seven or eight years if my recollection is correct, he suffered an injury which left him a cripple for life. In a bad fall the hip joint of one leg was fractured. Proper medical attention was not available. He spent months of suffering, until the injury mended, but it left him lame for life and was always painful. He used to relate how he first was able to relieve the pain by hobbling to the spring below the house and allowing the cold water to run across his body.
He related to us as children how he went out one evening as a small boy to look for some of the sheep that had not come up. He did not find them, but the next morning they discovered that a cougar had killed six or eight and was probably crouching at it's meal when he went calling around the edge of the meadow for them.
His schooling, with other members of the family, was obtained in the little district school about three miles north of the Richardson home. The old schoolhouse was located very close to the new Tigard Union High school just beyond the point where the highway now crosses the railroad tracks. It ended with the equivalent of an eighth grade education or less, but his reading and self education developed him into a well read and cultured man. He was very meticulous about business transactions and showed aptitude for some branches of the law. He wrote a beautiful and distinctive hand-and regretted very much the efforts of his own sons in this respect with reasonably good grounds.
As a young man he worked for some time on a river boat making the lower Columbia run. He also spent a season or more in the salmon fisheries, working on a seining ground on an island not far from Clatskanie. Aside from the communities on the Washington shore
which he would naturally have visited on the river boat, I doubt if he were ever outside his native state.
He made one trip to the Wallowa country in eastern Oregon in 1879 and I believe this was the only time he was ever further east than Hood River or The Dalles. This trip was evidently a business one connected with the sale of some of the property in the estate of his uncle George Richardson, who had died a couple of years before and was for the purpose of securing signatures of the heirs. I have before me now a letter written July 7, 1879, to Rufus Norman, his brother-in-law, from Lostine where he had found the J. T. Jacob family and the Richardson boys, his cousins. It was written in ink in a bold, clear hand, undimmed in 50 years, accurate in spelling and construction. He evidently had gone by boat to Umatilla on the Columbia and by stage from that point through Pendleton to La Grande, the present route of the Old Oregon trail highway. The trip to Pendleton required from six o'clock in the evening till 2:00 in the morning. With an hour to change horses the stage continued to La Grande, arriving at 4:00 p.m. the afternoon after he left Umatilla, a lapsed period of 22 hours. This now requires between two and a half and three hours by auto. The next day he went to Summerville, now a ghost community nestling back in the Blue mountains on the edge of the wide bowl of the Grande Ronde valley. Failing in his efforts to rent a horse that day, he remained in Summerville all night. The next morning, July 4, 1879, he set out on foot. He made only 18 miles the first day, as heavy rains set in and the next day completed the trip to Lostine, a total distance of 43 miles from Summerville. A forced wait for one of the family to return from a mine way back in the mountains gave him opportunity to visit Wallowa lake and spend several days with his cousins. He later spoke of Wallowa lake and related that at the time a cannery was operating there on a species of fish called "redsides." These were the blueback salmon, a run completely destroyed in the Columbia and restored by artificial propagation n recent years.
The Wallowa valley trip was evidently an eye-opener to one used to the conservative prices of the Willamette valley. He mentioned in the letter to Norman that the fare to Umatilla was $10 and $11 from Umatilla to La Grande. Meals were a straight 50c to Umatilla and from there on 75c until he reached the visiting stage of the journey.
The Portland of his boyhood and young manhood was a fast growing village centering in a few blocks along the river front from Morrison street south to the Hawthorne bridge location. The present day business section was forest and farm land and the east side a separate town with only boats and ferry service to connect the two. I have heard him relate that one winter the Willamette river was frozen over at Portland for six weeks so solidly that it was crossed by horse drawn sleds. The Columbia freezes frequently, the Willamette very rarely.
In the '80s, after the death of his mother, my father came up into Yamhill county. He became interested in the mountain lands in the Meadow Lake country and in company with his cousin, Shade Richardson and others, began working in the cedar timber. They manufactured cedar shingles and shakes, riving them out by hand. The shingles were shaved with a drawing knife. These shingles, made from the hearts of dead cedar timber, were used on many McMinnville buildings and had a life of upward to 50 years.
On April 14, 1889, he married Alice Hibbs, only daughter of James and Elizabeth Hibbs. Her parents were born in West Virginia. They were married when Elizabeth Riggs was not yet 16, eloping for the purpose. Alice was born in Illinois February 24, 1857. The family came to Oregon by ox team in 1862 when she was just past five years old. They had first settled in Marion county but a short time later moved to the vicinity of McMinnville. The family consisted of nine boys and one girl, but one of the boys had died of scarlet fever. Alice was the fifth child in the family. James Hibbs had come to Oregon pennyless but had become a substantial farmer before his death about 1893. I have heard my mother relate that when their wagon train reached The Dalles and faced the alternative of taking the old Barlow Pass road across the Cas-
cades or floating down on flat boats, that her father had only one $10 gold piece left, so he yoked his worn oxen and took up the bitter trail again.
The last home of James Hibbs was the farm later known as the Frank Stout place about three miles due north of McMinnville on Baker creek.
Milt Richardson was in his 41st year at the time of his marriage and my mother was just past 32. Both had known the full hardships of pioneer life from their earliest childhood. Nor was their future lot in life to be less marked by hard work and the necessity of continual saving. My brother Ward was born August 2, 1890. At that time the family was spending the summer months in the mountains near Meadow Lake, working in the cedar timber, but coming out to the valley during the winter. Ward was born at his grandfather's farm north of McMinnville.
During a part of the next few years father worked as a clerk in the old Grange Store (general store) at McMinnville. The inside work did not agree with him, however, and he gave it up. He secured a small farm in the Booth Bend district south of McMinnville about 2-1/2 miles and built a house, barn and other buildings. The place was small and not very valuable for farming. Clustered about the neighborhood were many friends and relatives. Mr. and Mrs. Shade Richardson (Uncle Shade and Aunt Chat) lived on the adjoining place to the south. Mrs. Mary E. Colby (Aunty), my father's sister, lived for a short time on the place adjoining us on the north. John Booth's large farm lay across the road and his house was only a half-mile away to the south. His daughter had married one of my mother's brothers, Fred Hibbs, and they spent a part of the time at the Booth home and later Mrs. Hibbs and her son Roy, six months my senior, made their home there. John Pennington, a brother-in-law of John Booth, lived just across the road from Aunty and Clarence Booth and Mrs. Mary Allen, brother and sister of John Booth, lived a short distance east of the Pennington place.
I was born on the Booth Bend place November 25, 1895. The two or three preceding years, known as the panic years, had been among the leanest in the history of the country and our finances, which had never been at a high level, were decidedly slender. I have heard my father say that he sometimes stood beside my cradle and looked down with tears in his eyes, wondering if he would be able to provide shoes and food for his little family.
But whatever may have been the morale of the family at that time, I at least was little affected by it. My memory goes back to the far dawn of a period when I must not have been over two years of age. My first recollection is one of being in the barn at feeding time in winter and watching the cows. Another is of removing a morsel of food from my plate and holding it beneath the table for our old yellow cat, Tom, to carefully pry my fingers apart and take his portion-a regular mealtime occurrence. Another is sneezing while in the act of eating custard when company was present, much to the embarrassment of Ward and to a visiting relative who happened to be just across the table. Adventures in soap eating also stand out above many more important happenings. I was a sucker for the perfume and color of pink hand soap, which I attempted to eat whenever opportunity afforded.
At a very early age, I believe at three years, I was beset with a mania for hunting that has been more or less constant since. I believe that was a trait inherited from the Hibbs family for most of my mother's brothers were inveterate hunters and exceedingly good ones. I have often thought that I inherited more of the sporting instinct than the hack but the pleasure has not been dimned by the results. Fred Hibbs, who was a frequent visitor in those days and who later treated me almost as his own son, was my best beloved uncle. At any rate I would roam the stubble in early fall with a small dog Judy, old and fat but industrious. I learned more about the habits of short tailed field mice than most adults ever know. I was aware at that time that all was not well with Judy, and it had been decided in family conference, when I was supposed to be taking my nap, that she must be disposed of. She had developed udder sores and they were fearful about them. After one particularly suc-
cessful day, I laid our catch before my dad and said quite hopefully: "Now you'll not kill Judy, will you?" It was a rather bitter preparation for a dreaded task, which nevertheles was soon after carried out. After she was gone I carried on the mouse work alone, trapping in the grain bin in the barn with passing success for a boy who still wore skirts.
Ward was something of a problem both to me and to my mother. He had developed into the most inveterate tease ever inflicted on a younger brother. I suppose a modern pschologist would diagnose it as due to the sudden arrival of a baby brother after five years as an only child. I didn't know as much about psychology as I did about field mice, but I developed the habit of self defense with a hammer, ax, club or anything that came handy backed up with a temper which led my dad to remind me very soberly that if I didn't tame it I would be hanged for murder before I became of age. There is no question in my mind where I inherited the temper. Fortunately Ward reached an age when he packed off to school each day and ran into something akin to what he had been giving me. My dad tried working on my subconscious mind by talking to me when I was asleep. The temper is still hanging around somewhere but its outward manifestation has seldom attracted public notice. It did not immediately respond to treatment, however.
It was about this time that a change came about in our family affairs. The little farm in the Booth Bend was traded on a larger one in what is known as Poverty Bend about five miles north of McMinnville near the North Yamhill river and bordering on Panther creek. It involved some considerable debt but it placed us on a larger and better place. This was in the spring of 1900. I well remember the first trip I made to our new home in a buggy and how the chipmunks scampered along the fences as we drove along. With this place we acquired a dog, a Scotch collie, and took along a pug nosed feist which had been secured to compensate us boys for the loss of old Judy. Old Tom, the yellow cat, was likewise retained and despite his age he showed his qualities as a hunter. Before long he began bringing in the scampering chipmunks from the lane, two at a time, and soon they were gone. Then, his failing eyesight causing him to mistake them for better game, he began bringing in fence lizards, usually two at a time as well.
As a lad just turning five, I found the new farm a hunter's paradise, and the new dog Shep far better than old Judy. During those long days I made memorable excursions in natural history, urging on the dogs to dig out hapless ground squirrels and rabbits with fair success.
Soon a new dog arrived, one of old Shep's pups which we were allowed to keep. She was a mixture of collie and shepherd and of course we named her Judy. She grew into a medium sized dog, reddish brown with heavy mane and plumy tail. From her arrival until her death from old age about 14 years later Judy was my undisputed possession and constant companion. She perhaps had shortcomings but none that her master could recognize more than temporarily, and certainly she has gone down in my memory as all that is loveable in dogs. Together in later years we tramped the hills and beat the swails for game.
Three years passed by and I think our little family was the happiest it had ever been. We boys were too young to share in much of the work, but old enough to appreciate the liberty and pleasures of farmer boys. We learned to fish and swim and foraged through woodland and fields to our hearts' content. Providence must have looked kindly upon us to have seen that both came through it all alive. But it all came to a sudden ending.
My father had always been interested in cooperative ventures and believed in them as economically sound in principle. He had been a director for several years of the Grange cooperative store in McMinnville. It failed, through mismanagement, and the directors were called upon to make good a substantial deficit. To the other directors it was just another misadventure. But to us it meant ruin, just when things were looking brightest. It was a hard blow to my father, coming late in life, taking practically everything. He sold the farm, cleaned up the
debt and put what little remained into two acres of land and a house on the edge of McMinnville.
I was too young at the time to realize just what had happened, but I did know that a real tragedy had come upon us and that my father had suffered a blow from which his hopes and spirit never recovered. We moved away in the spring of 1903 about three years from the time we had come. It was a sad parting for all of us. We had become attached to the farm, to the fine neighbors who had been so good to us. The Cummins family and the Voegeli family had been especially good friends.
It was perhaps hardest of all upon my mother. I never realized till later what a valiant woman she had been, how hard she had toiled and striven to keep things going. She was born to the farm and liked it, and I believe those years in Poverty Bend, with her little family growing, and things apaprently thriving, were the happiest of her life.
For a time we lived with Uncle Shade and Aunt Chat (Mr. and Mrs. Shade Richardson, cousins of my father) on the western edge of McMinnville. We bought two acres off their place and built a comfortable house upon it. This house was largely my father's own handiwork. But it took practically all that had been saved from the wreck after the store liability had been cleared up.
As I look back, 37 years after, I can see that this was probably the turning point in my life, paid for perhaps by a tragic break in the lives of both my parents. It meant an opportunity for school and college that might never have been mine on the farm, and farm life, stripped of the rambling, hunting and fishing, never fitted well into my sphere of living.
I can see clearly now, and I realized quite well then, the full measure of hardship which fell upon father and mother during the next decade. They had to eke out a living from the small place-truck gardening, chickens, a couple of cows and seasonal work such as hop picking. In the face of it all they encouraged us to get all the schooling that was possible. We lived comfortably and happily. It was a community of fine neighbors and true friends. Expenses, fortunately, were at a level far below that of post-war times. We kept out of debt, and slowly but surely Ward and I were growing up, and just as surely the horizon of old age was creeping toward our parents.
Ward graduated from the 2-year high school in 1905 before he was 15. That spring, as a lad just turning ten, I suffered an accident which very nearly cost me my life. A round rush, shot from an air gun, pierced the ball of my right eye, just grazing the pupil. It was shot in play, and seeking to shield the older boy who did it, I pulled it out and said nothing about it. That happened on Memorial day, May 30, 1905, and on June 1 Ward and my father went to Portland for the opening of the Lewis & Clark exposition. When they returned about three days later, my eye had gotten so bad that I was in terrible pain. I was taken to a doctor and a piece of rush was removed. The eye got well and some degree of sight remained. It is probable that if I had owned up to the accident when it happened there would have been no permanent injury.
Soon after graduating Ward went to Salem and was apprenticed to a blacksmith and wagon maker, George Jacob, a nephew of Uncle Shade and a son of the young Englishman who had been stock driver for my grandfather on the long trip across the plains. They did not realize that the automobile, which we had first seen on the dusty Poverty Bend road only three years before, had doomed this trade to complete oblivion inside of a decade.
Those first few months were lonely ones, filled with the hope that Ward would return. I know now that my mother felt them even more than I, but my father was imbued with something of an old time notion on such things. He felt that Ward had been given all the education that could be afforded him, and that the apprenticeship was an opportunity which insured his future. George Jacob was a character about whom a book could be written, a mechanical genius, an inventor and a conversationalist whose range of subjects covered everything from city politics to palmistry and phrenology. His conversational bent frequently caus-
ed him to take from two to three hours to walk from his shop a half block to his home for lunch, so oblivious was he to the passage of time when once he became engrossed in discussion. Knowing him has made the folk tale of Rip Van Winkle more credible.
I was completing the third grade at that time. Graduation was a long, long way ahead. The years that followed certainly were not unhappy ones for me. I had new friends. The fields and woodlands and hills stretched to the west of us, almost as close and certainly as inviting as the bottoms of Panther creek and the North Yamhill river at the farm.
My father never fully recovered from the worries incident to the Grange store failure. He was now in his sixties and his injured leg caused him considerable trouble. He had little heart and no particular aptitude for farming, at least on the petty scale that was now necessary. I have often thought how tragic it was to his future that his early life had been spent in a pioneer community, where farming and ranching were the only opportunities open to him. He had a remarkable capacity for learning and would have been a highly successful man in any one of a number of professions.
Success, however, is not gauged entirely by material things, or by a man's own happiness. No man has left a richer heritage of good will and friendship among neighbors than Milt Richardson, as an upright, fearless and honest citizen. I do not believe that he ever knowingly took an unfair advantage of anyone.
I remember him as a man of small stature, only 5 feet 6 inches tall and of medium weight. His hair was black and was not tinged with gray until his late sixties. During most of his life he wore a mustache and full beard. His eyes were dark brown and he enjoyed good sight until his death. His teeth were so sound that he had never visited a dentist in his life and was only troubled with them when they wore out. He was kindly, free hearted so far as his means would afford and touched to the quick by pain or suffering. He was quick tempered but aside from the danger of the first flare of that temper there was not much to fear from it. A gulf of 47 years separated us in age and I have regretted that when I became old enough to fully understand him, he was an elderly man, not fully understanding the complex problems of a small boy. He seldom smoked and then only a gift cigar, but he had used chewing tobacco so far back that he could not remember when he took up the habit. He attributed his perfect teeth to that habit.
During his entire life he had had a keen interest in political and social matters and had shown a natural aptitude for writing. In thought he was what is now known as liberal, and at that time was considered radical. Although not a prohibitionist in the strict sense of the word, for he had been reared among people who considered a demijohn of whisky in the chimney corner the major part of a medicine cabinet, he was early allied with the local option fight and gave considerable time and thought toward bringing the issue before the people until it finally became a law in our community. He was likewise one of the early friends of women's rights in Oregon and of the initiative and referendum and the direct primary.
A stroke of paralysis suffered in the summer of 1918, at a time when he was in anything but robust health, resulted in his death the following spring, June 5, 1919.
The friendship of Uncle Shade and my father during the closing years of their lives is a pleasing recollection. The two had spent much of their early boyhood and manhood together, and as old men they were congenial companions. They agreed implicitly in their political beliefs and received much pleasure from onesided arguments, both taking the same stand with minor variations. They were thought by practically everyone to be brothers, although there was little physical resemblance.
Uncle Shade's hair was snow white with a tendency toward baldness. He was taller by several inches than my father and flat chested, almost gaunt in contrast to my father's round build and tendency toward stoutness. Uncle Shade's nose was characteristically Richardson but had been broken and slightly bent by some accident or happening which I do not
recall ever hearing him explain.He was a gentle spirited man and kindly but the characteristic family temper smouldered enough to be aroused upon occasion. He was less of a dreamer and thinker than my father and more given to relaxation. Both he and Aunt Chat loved to play cards and I was frequently the third member in the game. My father rarely played and with little interest, although he had no objection to others playing.
While my father was somewhat visionary and impractical for the lot in life which had fallen to him, my mother was decidedly of a practical turn. When a girl she had been in frail health for a number of years, but later developed a more robust constitution. She loved work and outdoor things perhaps more than anything else. Chickens and cows were her constant delight, and she was never happier than when working with them. I realize now what a heavy load of worry and responsibility developed on her during all those years. But no one ever bore her lot with less complaint and more cheerfully. Her early life had been one almost of drudgery, the only girl in a large family, with younger children to care for and a full share of the housework falling upon her at a time when most children are playing with dolls. It was not the custom of the men folks, in the early pioneer times, to think seriously of lightening the burden around the home. The lot of women in many early day families was only a step advanced from that of the Indian women, and in some cases that step was not a very long stride.
After the death of her father in the middle nineties, when the estate was divided, something of a mad scramble must have ensued. The details of it have never been clear to me, and were probably better forgotten, but in the end my mother was left practically without a share and what she did receive was plastered with a mortgage. It left a rather bitter spot in her heart, a feeling that after giving over 30 years of her life to the family she had been shoved aside when those who were better able to provide for themselves had secured the lion's share. But if anything that feeling increased her desire to do the right thing by her own family. Surprisingly too, she was partial to boys and never regretted the fact that her children were both boys, while my father was rather disappointed in the fact that he had no girl. It believe the most pleasing experience of her last years was the birth of her first grandchild, Katherine Alice whom she was privileged to know and enjoy for a few short months before being stricken with her last illness while on a visit with Ward's family.
No mother was ever more devoted to her family than mother. Through years of bad luck or good there was never a time when they did not come first with herself entirely effaced from the picture. During the war, when she was left alone with an aged and invalid husband to care for, she bore up just as courageously as in the past. The strain, hard work and care of those days permanently ruined her health. At the end, when there came a time when hard work could be laid aside and some of the comforts of life enjoyed, she could not fit into the new life and like it. Her fixed habits of hard work and frugality made an easier mode of living unnatural and left a longing to return to the old. And while her final years were not unhappy, and were made as pleasant for her as possible, she never became reconciled to a new mode of living. She died on July 6, 1927, and was buried beside my father in the Masonic cemetery near McMinnville on a hill overlooking their last home.
It has been my creed in life to accept things as they come, enjoying the good things and putting up with those not so agreeable as part of the game of life. But it was with lasting regret that I saw both my father and mother pass through their declining years without being able to lay aside work and worry and enjoy themselves. Yet I can not feel that they particularly desired any great change in conditions.
It was their lot in life to experience much hard work and some adversity, to live frugally and always with the knowledge that the future was none too secure. They worried perhaps more than necessity demanded. their whole lives, as I look back upon them now, were centered as all true parents' lives are, on the hope that their children would not face the same
severe conditions. Everything within their means was offered us in training and education, and I, as the youngest of the family and the one who in turn had the responsibility of remaining at home and helping them as I could as they grew older, had the better opportunity to avail myself of it.
Some parents have money or farms as a rich inheritance to leave their children. The richest heritage we received was that of home training in honesty and thrift, in frugal living and encouragement to live right and do right, to make the most of ourselves by our own efforts. I could perhaps have appreciated riches, although I have never particularly yearned for them. But I know that the experience of those long lean years, smoothed out for us a little at a time by the hard work of my mother and father, was worth far more to me through life than any inheritance within my dreams.
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