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Early Pioneer Life
Miss Jean C. Slauson
Circumstances of Interview
Federal Writers' Project
Works Progress Administration
OREGON FOLKLORE STUDIES
Name of worker : Sara B. Wrenn
Address : 505 Elks Building, Portland, Oregon
Subject: Early Pioneer Life, etc.
Name and address of informant: Miss Jean C. Slauson Lower Drive, Lake Grove, Oswego Oregon
Date and time of interview: January 11, 1939
Place of interview:
Name and address of person, if any, who put you in touch with informant :
Name and address of person, if any, accompanying you :
Description of room, house, surroundings, etc. :
Personal History of Informant
Information obtained should supply the following facts:
1. Ancestry : Scotch-Irish.
2. Place and date of birth : Portland, Oregon, August 18, 1884
3. Family : Father, Allan B. Slauson. Mother, Agnes E. Coburn.
4. Places lived in, with dates : Portland, Oregon, practically all of her life.
5. Education, with dates : Public schools of Portland; University of Oregon, 1907 graduated.
6. Occupations and accomplishments with dates : Teaching in public schools of Oregon.
7. Special skills and interests : No special skills. General interests, in which reading predominates.
8. Community and religious activities : General, rather than particular, community interests. Member of Unitarian Church of Portland. Member also of D. A. R., and Eastern Star order.
9. Description of informant : Fresh-complexioned woman of medium stature, with the hallmarks of background and breeding.
10. Other points gained in interview : Much interest in early family history evidenced by informants, as well as in the Federal Writers' Project and Oregon's folklore studies.
Our early pioneer ancestors were, as
you know, all ardent woman suffragists, and they were
women who could express themselves both verbally and in
writing, those great-aunts of ours. Aunt Harriet Palmer
began writing at an early age, as is shown by the
following childish poem, written as they were leaving
Illinois for Oregon in 1852:
The story of Great-aunt Martha Coffee's first winter in Oregon, is, I imagine, the same as that of most of the pioneer women of that period. The winter was spent in a one-room cabin on the river bank, near the old town of Champoeg, in Marion County. Champoeg was more important then than Portland, but was practically obliterated by the flood of 1861. The one-room cabin had a wide earthen fireplace, with a mud and stick chimney. The window consisted of a square opening in the wall, covered by a piece of an old sheet, both to keep out the wind and admit the light. Two homemade bedsteads framed into the opposite walls, a table improvised from rough boards and two benches -- these were the appointments of the home she and her husband had travelled six months to reach. The long winter evenings were lighted by the fireplace flames, and for "fine work", by a lamp contrived from a battered tin platter, filled with melted lard, in which floated a wick of twisted cotton rags. As there was danger the lard would give out, it was the habit of the frugal housewife to blow out the light as soon as possible every evening. On one occasion, the master of the house placed the lamp on one of the benches while he stepped out-side for firewood. On economy bent, great-runt blew out the light, and great-uncle, returning, unknowingly with his wood, seated himself in the lamp, as he mended the fire. The resulting disaster not only left the household in darkness for several evenings, but kept the good man in bed most of the next day, while great-aunt washed and dried his only pair of breeches.
Early in January, 1853, came a heavy fall of snow. The white drifts piled high, and the two remaining oxen from the long trip across the plains were without shelter. During two of the worst nights, the shivering animals were taken into, and shared the cabin with, the rest of the family. Later, a cover for each of the oxen was improvised from out the tattered wagon cover. With this protection, and the daily lopping of boughs for browsing, the cattle came bravely through the winter. There were five months of this isolation, with the daily bill of fare bread, tea and molasses. One day the husband borrowed a gun and killed two grouse, and then a real, live woman came trudging through the damp forest from five miles away, bringing with her as a neighborly offering, a piece of bacon and a small pail of milk. That was a red letter day.
Great aunt Abigal Duniway never forgot, nor neglected, an opportunity for proselyting for the "cause", as woman suffrage was called by its devoted missionaries.
Those who remember her will appreciate this story. There was a meeting -- a church meeting of some sort, though not a regular service, at the old Taylor Street Methodist Church (Portland). Aunt Abigail, hoping to get in a word in behalf of the "cause", attended. But the minister in charge forestalled her intention by quoting Paul, the Apostle's admonition about women keeping quiet in the temple of the Lord. Aunt Abigail sat down, but not for long. In time, there came a lull in the proceedings and instantly she was on her feet. "Let us pray", she said, and thereupon exhorted and prayed the Lord with all her might, beseeching in behalf of women's political equality.
Here is a bit of folk lore perhaps
you'd call it, about Woodburn. Originally, as all old
timers know, Woodburn, or Bel Passi, as it was then
called, was located on the main highway or stage road,
running south to California. Years later, the railroad
came along, with its right of way some distance west of
the schoolhouse, church, store and post office, and
immediately the town, of course, was compelled to move
west too. In 1852 Bel Passi had no cemetery. A stranger
passing through attended church one Sunday of that year,
and while at church dropped dead. The little community was
at a loss where to bury the unknown, until one of the
land-owners nearby offered a burial plat, which later
became Bel Passi's cemetery. They were unable to find any
identification of the stranger other than the name of
Eaton. No one knew his first name, nor anything about him.
The old schoolhouse was in the cemetery, I believe, and
somewhat recently, I understand, the Eaton grave was
Extra Comment :
Miss Slauson and her cousins intimated
they had further manuscripts and knowledge of a folklore
nature that they would be glad to contribute at a time
more convenient to them. On the Saturday afternoon they
were interviewed, the time was late, prohibiting the
securing of material beyond what is here given. They
appear to be what might be termed a veritable treasure
trove of early folklore.
By Catherine A. Coburn
Woman's station in pioneer days was that of the true woman in all times and conditions .......... Coming down to detail, I find the storehouse of memory full of incidents that can readily be offered in support of the assumption that woman's place in pioneer life... -state building -- was one of specific, as well as of general importance .... I recall the celebration of the Fourth of July at LaFayette, Yamhill County, in 1854. Some weeks before, the women of the village, under the leadership of Mrs. A. R. Burbank...engaged to make a flag, and present it, through the orator of the day, Hon. Amory Holbrook, to the Masonic Lodge of that places.... The flag was a handsome one, and as fine a sample of "hand sewing" as our grandmothers could have desired. My impression is it was lost by fire, with other effects of the lodge, some years ago.
Following the oration and the presentation of the flag came an invitation to a public dinner, Rude, improvised tables were set in the grove, cherished linens from grandmother's looms, that had been brought by ox-team express across the plains, covered the unsightly boards, sprigs of fir and cedar, boquets of hollyhocks and pinks, with now and then a bunch of sweet "Mission roses" garnished them, and over all the new old flag floated.
The tables were laden with viands prepared by women who were adepts in cookery as well as in flag-making and table adornment. In pioneer times, as now (1909), women was a silent element in politics, but then, as now, women were strong partisans and ready upon occasion, to give a reason for the faith that was within them -- not publicly, but with an energy in neighborly discussions, aespecially when stirring to influence the "men folks" of their own families who did the voting.
It is recalled that when, in 1853, General Joseph Lane and Hon. Alonza A. Sumner were, in common parlance, "stumping the Territory for Congress", women became so imbued with the spirit of partisanism which is often to this day mistaken for patriotism, that they courageously determined to attend the speaking of the rival candidates, at the courthouse in LaFayette.
I speak of this town from personal knowledge... it was a representative community... The flutter in feminine circles was greater than that proverbially ascribed to the organization of a sewing society, or the getting up of a minister's donation party. The town was canvassed to learn "who would go," with the results in promises quite satisfactory to the leading spirits of this feverish desire on the part of women to "break into politics." But, alas, when the momentous occasion arrived but two women found courage to enter the old courthouse and take seats therein, and it is recalled that, discovering these two toward the close of a violent political and personal harangue, the gallant General Lane apologized for any words unsuited to ears polite that might have escaped his lips while in the presence of "the ladies."
It may be added that an apology was due, as politicians of this period were not always as choice of words as decency would dictate. It is claimed by those who profess to have special knowledge upon the subject that the intrusion, as some would say -- the introduction as others have it -- of women into political gatherings, which occurred to a greater or less extent throughout Oregon Territory... inaugurated a system of political discussion in which decency has never since been forgotten in the excitement of political controversy.
Desire for knowledge.
Of this your chronicler does not presume in this place to speak, she being content with recording the first public introduction, so far as she is aware, of women into politics in Oregon, and with adding that, though there was no expression of a desire to vote, heard among the pioneer women, the sincerity of their desire for knowledge of political questions then literally convulsing the infant territory, already upon the verge of statehood, is unquestioned.
In the educational work of the pioneer era, woman's station was sharply defined. Leaving the history of the missions, in which the names of Narcissa Whitman, Mary A. Walker, Maria Pitman, Mrs. Gray, Mrs. Spaulding and half a score of others stand for good words and works in their special lines, I will revert to the work as a pioneer in the founding of an educational institution of Mrs. Tabitha Brown, who, away back in the '40s, opened a boarding school for children in Forest Grove, which became the stepping stone to Pacific University .... Dying about 1860, at an advanced age, her memory is still honored in the community of which, for many years, she was a leading factor, and by the institution, the corner stone of which she helped to lay. A co-laborer with Harvey Clark, Horace Lyman and S. H. Marsh, she supplemented their endeavor in-seaman's ways, after having done yeomans service in foundation building.
Later in the field, and working in parallel, but totally dissimilar lines, was the wife of Professor J. M. Keeler, who was a social leader in the little academic town of Forest Grove in early days, as wall as preceptress of Tualatin Academy and supervisor of the home boarding house, in which the young girls of a primitive era were taught table and society "manners".
Types of Educators.
These women are mentioned as types merely, of a class of early educators and workers in the educational field, members of which came in with the establishment of missions at Salem, and were increased by each successive immigration from the "states."
As actors in the drama of heroism, women in pioneer life make a striking presentment. Whether bidding goodbye, and godspeed, to the husband as he answered the call for volunteers to suppress an Indian outbreak that threatened frontier homes; going out to meet the slow caravan of returning comrades who bore her mutilated dead to her door; feeding a band of Indians, sullen and fierce, from her store-house against her husband's return from the field... or under the shadow of expected maternity, creeping through bushes and down to the waiting boat, closely followed by her husband, rifle in hand, seeking safety in the blockhouse....
Thus sang a local pioneer poet, the son of a pioneer mother, some years ago. Yet a tragic tale of the border might thus be truly illustrated. The husband and eldest son were set upon and killed by Indians while on the range. A younger son, the shepherd boy, took alarm and fleeing toward home, pursued by the savages, was met and escorted in safety to the "inch-board shanty", where the heroic woman kept the foe at bay with her rifle until succor came, as told by the narrator in verse:
Led in Hospitality.
Women in pioneer times led the van. In this connection, I recall, with a glow of admiration and tenderness, the life of Jane E., wife of Captain A. F. Hedges, during the cream of pioneer years, residents of Clackamas County....
Married when very young -- 16 or thereabouts -- after the manner of pioneer girls, the mother of 12 children, energetic in community works, she yet found time to entertain hospitably and feed royally every one who came to the door of her rambling, weather-beaten, old farmhouse, which stood, and still stands for what I know, on the hill a mile east of Oregon City .... Contemporaneous with Mrs. Hedges and, like her, "given to hospitality", were her sister-in-law -- Martha A. and Rebecca Barlow. Both still survive (1900), the former being the gentle, genial mistress of the commodious farmhouse near Barlow's station, that has been her home for nearly half a century.
I recall, in connection with the open-handed hospitality of these Barlow homes, the fact that during a spasm, if it may be so termed, of religious fervor, lasting perhaps two or three years, and including some half dozen families, the multitude was veritably and substantially fed on alternate Sundays, after "service", from tables arranged around three sides of the capacious farmyard barns. All who attended "meeting" were invited, at the close of Brother McCarty's impassioned appeal to "repent, believe and be baptized", to go to the tables (services being also held in the barns) and "help themselves."
Four families, so far as my memory serves, joined in this quaint combination of the religious and the hospitable -- the two already mentioned, a family named Huffman, whose home was near Aurora, and William Elliott and wife, of Elliott Prairie. Recalling the scene, the amount of food cooked and dispensed by these hospitable people upon these occasions impresses me as having been enormous, and yet the women who were chief cooks and caterers displayed an untiring zeal in the welfare of their numerous guests, and a cheerfulness in serving them that bore the stamp of hospitality of a type that belonged exclusively to pioneer days and has vanished with the "free dinner", set out in the grove by patriotic women an the Fourth of July.
.... (Omitted, a paragraph of eulogy)
Multnomah County, State of Oregon.
District No. 6 I. W. Roork clerk you are hereby authorized to pay Effie C. Morgan twenty dollars out of the school money in your hands for services rended
(Signed) Archon Kelly
Multnomah County School Notices (Slauson)
is hereby given that there will be a meeting of the legal voters of schol Dist N 21 held at the of James Brown on thursday April 23 2 o'clock P M. for the purpose of selecting a site and locating schoolhouse, also leving a tax for the purpose of building.
(Signed) James H. Allyn
April 13th, 1857
We the undersigned agree to pay the
following sums annexed to our several names, within six
months; for the purpose of purchasing lumber, windows,
nails [?] for the purpose of completing
school House in Dist. No. 21
The committee appointed to select a burying ground beg leave to report:
The committee having met and proceeded to the place indicated by the meeting, having found by trial at the depth of five feet there were no indications of water, no seaps, and the earth at that depth being comparatively dry and porus, we feel warranted to say to this meeting that there is not the least danger of [bog] trouble with water for all practical depths.
The place selected is the two acres adjoing the south side of the lot belonging to School district -----
The place being of beautiful locality
and quite easy to clear, we would recommend that our
selection be confirmed and that we be authorized to
receive a deed from the owner C W Brown who proposes to
give the two acres for the above named purpose, and to
take charge of the same to improve and lay out as they
Leyman Williams ) Committe
James Brown )
COPY OF TICKET VOTED IN 1862
Altho I was but a girl of 11 years I
distinctly remember many things connected with that
far-off time when all of our western country was a
wilderness... We were six months in crossing the plains in