Benton County Pioneer Life

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Pioneer life in the Benton Co. WA area


Horse Trader Hit Town/ Went to Work Grubbing Sage


By BURTON 0. LUM
Tri-City Pioneer
Sunday, 9 April 1961

An old high-wheeled prairie schooner with a rather new canvas top rolled into Kennewick one bright afternoon in the spring of 1890. Seated on the driver’s seat was red-whiskered Billy Martin. By his side sat Emy, his wife, on her lap the baby, Van Buren, and by her side a young daughter, Elly, of six years. Eight year old Billy Jr. and Clarence, 10, rode a couple of ponies. They were keeping the four fine horses, that were being led, from pulling back. Billy, of the red whiskers, deftly drove the four-horse team. They were looking for a place to make camp for the night. They had seen from a distance the corrals and ranch house of Lum’s “horse spread” and drove to the gate of its main corral and stopped.

Mrs. Lum saw them and walked over to see what they wished. She asked them if they were well, if they had plenty of food, and could she do anything for them? They asked for the use of a corral for the night for their livestock. She gave them permission and told them they could move in the nearby vacant house for a few days to rest and wash up. They gladly accepted the invitation and moved in. Mrs. Lum walked back home to get the supper for her family. When Lum and son, Charley, returned from the Yakima River ranch for supper, she told them of the Martins.

After supper she and her husband went to see how the Martins were coming along. The Lum children stayed at home to do the supper dishes, evening chores, and care for the baby, Morris. The Lum children stayed up for their father’s and mother’s return to get the report on the Martins. Lum said that the Martins came from the Gran Rond Country in Oregon, a district that was noted for its fine horses. Lum had ridden this country many years ago. He remembered many of Martins relatives and friends.

Mrs. Lum called on the Martins the next afternoon. Mrs. Martin had her huge washing all on the line. They sat and visited. Mrs. Martin was a pretty, jolly and buxom young woman. Mrs. Lum was much older, small and petite. These two pioneer women took to each other like two long lost sisters. Billy had also rather cottened to Cap. Lum because of his good nature and wealth of pioneer experiences. Mrs. Martin told Mrs. Lum that for several years Billy, she, and the children had led the life of gypsies, traveling through the country, trading horses. They had made good money because few men lived that knew as much about horses as Billy. He was honest in his trading. He knew the demand and the supply. In these days he was known as “a straight shootin’ hoss trader” which was quite an honor. If he were living today he perhaps would be known as a very reliable livestock broker.

The Martins were anxious to settle down somewhere and get their children in school. This house was only fifty yards from Kennewick’s first school house. The school always carried its water from the Beach well. The Martins decided to rent the house and settle down.

Beaches were contacted at their new home in Ellensburg. A satisfactory lease of the property was made. Billy must now find employment where his special knowledge of horses could be utilized, his work stock used at something that would not keep them away from home at night. Lum had the answer, he had just invented a sagebrush grubbing machine that took eighteen head of horses to operate. He had secured a contract to clear and level a nearby eighty acre tract of sagebrush land owned by a non-resident Easterner.

Lum’s oldest son, Charley, was as crazy about horses and knew almost as much about them as Billy. Billy and he drove the sixteen horses that pulled the sagebrush grubber. The machine, like all new machines, had some bugs that had to be worked out. Billy and Charley got them worked out. The machine was a success.

Lum them invented a simple torch to burn the windrowed sagebrush. It was a piece of 3/4 “ gas pipe, eight feet long, reduced at one end to a curved piece of 1/2” pipe, a foot long, that contained a cotton wick. The eight foot pipe handle was filled with coal oil and plugged with a beer bottle cork. A quart bottle of coal oil would run the torch for a quarter of a day. A boy eight or ten years old could operate the torch. Billy and Charlie became expert in running the machine. Capt. Lum secured the jobs and kept the machinery in operating condition. The children did the burning. A prosperous business developed.

In 1898, Lum was offered a position in the Yakima County Sheriff’s office as deputy. The Lum family, with the exception of Charley, moved to North Yakima, the county seat of Yakima County. Billy and Charley continued successfully in the land clearing business for many years. There was never a rift between the two families in all their many years of association.

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