Benton County Pioneer Life

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Pioneer life in the Benton Co. WA area

Paw Dodson Was Long and Lean/ Maw Raised in Frontier Ways

Tri-City Pioneer
Sunday, 23 April 1961, page 16

Old Paw Dodson was a true type, tall Englishman from that part of England known for its tall men. He was slightly stooped, but stood well over six feet tall, lean lanky and raw-boned. His head was well thatched with a shock of graying, blond hair. His eyes were deep blue and deep set. His nose was long and protruded out from his heavily bearded face like a plowshare. His arms and legs were long and sinewy. He generally wore a large black slouch hat set well back on his head, a blue denim wampus jacket, and a pair of homespun jeans tucked in the tops of the largest boots made. This garb seemed to accentuate his height and slimness. James Dodson was well respected by all who knew him. He never drank, smoked, chewed, or swore.

His wife Harriet was fat as her husband was thin. She was a smiling frontier woman, the mother of their seven children. There were three sons, Hershel, Ashley, and James Jr., also four daughters, Kety, Loody, Georgie, and Hatty, the baby. Maw Dodson was a descendant of the first pioneers of Tennessee. She was well trained in frontier life and lore. She did water witching and acted as midwife at child birth for the other pioneer women. She raised their large family according to the early ways of the Tennessee pioneers. Their children called their father Paw and their mother Maw. The parents never called their offspring kids, they were “youngins.”

In the early spring she dosed the youngins with molasses and sulfur. All the youngins wore a little cloth sack filled with asafetida tied around their necks by a string long enough that the sack could be placed in the mouth. This was worn continually except in the very warm weather.

The Dodsons had come by mule team and prairie schooner to Wallula Ferry where they crossed the Columbia River. They were bound for the Horse Heaven Hills to settle down and grow wheat.

They had two prairie schooners. Paw drove the lead schooner with Maw and the youngins. Herchel, the oldest son, drove the other schooner. Ashley and James Jr. herded the livestock which consisted of a couple milk cows, two or three riding and driving horses, also four extra work horses.

The second schooner, driven by Hershel, carried seed grain, plow and harrow, a coop filled with chickens, and a small pen containing a couple of porkers were fastened to the rear tail gate. When they had driven about 12 miles into the Horse Heaven Hills, they saw a beautiful slightly sloping expanse of bunch grass cleft by a deep canyon. The caravan stopped. Paw, Maw and the two older sons mounted saddle horses and explored the bottom of the canyon for water leaks in the basalt rock. They followed a wild horse trail which led down the bottom of the canyon to a small leakage of water. They returned to the wagons and, picking out a route for the prairie schooners, they drove them and the stock down the horse trail to the water leakage and camped for the night.

The next morning they arose at daybreak and prepared breakfast. Ashley had night herded the livestock. Paw and Maw, after breakfast, walked up and down the horse trail in search of more water leaks. Maw had cut a forked branch of a wild willow for water witching and was trying to locate a better supply of water. She finally selected a spot. Paw and the boys picked, drilled and shoveled out a basin in the rock. It soon filled with cold sweet water for domestic use. A small trench was dug down the canyon a short distance leading the over flow into another basin for a watering hole to supply the stock.

On the beautiful bunch grass prairie above, the rim of the canyon, they selected the sight to plant their treasured seed wheat which they had brought so many miles. Paw and the boys spelled each other and kept the breaking plow going eighteen hours a day. They plowed and harrowed a sufficiently large field to use their entire seed wheat. Paw waited for a quiet day and hand sowed the entire field. The boys harrowed it in.

Food supplies were getting low. Paw, Maw and the youngins dressed in their Sunday-go-to-meeting clothes, hitched the fast walking mules to the smallest schooner and leaving Ashley behind to take care of everything, they piled in and set sail for the new settlement of Kennewick which was located about 8.5 miles to their southwest on the banks of the Columbia River. They made purchases at Leeper’s General Store and while shopping met Capt. Lum and family.

Lum had a well developed homestead about two miles north of Dodson’s place. Capt. Lum was a stockman and not a wheat rancher. Dodson improved his place and wheat farmed it for about three years. his wheat yield dwindled and he had to move to Kennewick to get his children to school and make a living for his family.

Hershel and Ashley went to Montana.

Paw, helped by son Jim, did teaming with his fine mules and horses. One noon time at school when the children were all sitting around eating their lunches, Loody Dodson held up her sandwich, showing it to the other children and saying, “Maw’s brad want good, she had it risin in the dish pan under the stove where it was warm and little Tricksie, the dog, slept on it and it didn’t rise like it orter.” The youngins in those early and rough days would have foundered themselves if they had been served a today’s school meal.

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