Benton County Pioneer Life

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Pioneer life in the Benton Co. WA area

Winter of 1895 Mild/A Visit to Fish Hook

Tri-City Pioneer
Tri-City Herald, Sunday, 25 February 1962

The winter of 1895 in the Tri-City area was mild. The pioneers would call it an "open winter." It snowed little but rained much. Winter temperatures had been higher than usual. Spring came early.

John Ericksen farmed the most land in the little community then called "Fish Hook Flat." That was located near the mouth of the Snake River. John Ericksen of Danish ancestry farmed the largest acreage in this vicinity. He farmed in the old fashioned manner. Plowed his land with a walking plow. Harrowed it with a two section spiketooth harrow. He sowed the grain broadcast by hand. Harrowed in and rolled it down with a log roll to compact the soil to keep it from blowing and to hold in the moisture.

John and his wife Hannah had a large family, four sons and two daughters. Like all pioneer families each member had their special duties to perform. School was held for three months of each year in a small school house situated near the Ericksen home. The school was generally held during the months of December, January and February as this was the period of the year that the children had the least to do on the farm.

The Fish Hook Flat School house was the typical building used in this region for such purposes. A one room wooden structure. Two windows with a door between in the front elevation. A small stoop was near the front door. A low dias was constructed in the right rear corner of the room on which stood the teacher's desk. Behind this desk the wall was painted black for a black board. The recitation benches faced an aisle that ran parallel to the front of this dias until it intersected the center aisle that lead from the front door to the rear. A big bellied heating stove stood near the rear of the room and near it a wooden bench which supported a water bucket in which sloshed a long handled tin dipper which everyone used and dropped back in. This bench also supported a tin wash basin and soap dish in which was a piece of bar soap.

The teacher called the classes to the recitation seats to recite. She called the school to order at 9 a.m. by ringing a hand bell on the front stoop. At 10:20 a.m. the teacher called a recess for a period of ten minutes and at noon an hour intermission until1 p.m, at 20 minutes after 2 p.m., an afternoon recess of 10 minutes and dismissal of school at 4 p.m.

This school was one of the first schools my sister taught. She lived at the Ericksen's home. The Ericksens spoke only Danish in their home, except when they spoke to my sister. She became very homesick and had written my mother concerning the situation. I was surprised one morning when mother asked me if I would like to visit my sister for a few days.

My school at Kennewick was just out. Mother had written Mrs. Ericksen that my sister would like to have me visit her for a few days if it was agreeable and Mrs. Ericksen had answered her and said that if I could be rowed across the Columbia River that they would meet the skiff and take me to their home.

The next Saturday brother Charley rowed me across the Columbia and they met the skiff and took me to their home where my sister was waiting to see me. I met the entire family. Sister and I talked until late. Then I crawled into bed.

The next morning was Sunday. Sister and I took a long walk and picked blue bells and dogtooth violets. Mrs. Ericksen had a wonderful chicken supper and real Danish pasteries.

Monday morning everyone arose early. The morning chores were done. Breakfast was eaten and the school lunch was put up for all who went to school. Sister, the students and I walked to the school house.

I could hardly wait to learn how to play the game they called "Snaring the prairie gopher." The boys had about a half dozen strings 50 feet long with a slip noose at one end which was placed carefully around the outer edge of any gopher holes. Then retire to the other end of the string and when the prairie gopher stuck his head out of the hole give the string a quick jerk and snare him. Then kill him by throwing him over your head and onto the ground. The girls would bury the bodies.

It was quite a game. We all had much sport and killed many of the pests that ate the farmer's sprouting grain.

By previous arrangement Charley met me in a few days at Snake River with the skiff and brought me back home. The visit had cheered up sister and I had the time of my life.

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