Reminiscences of a Pioneer

Mary Belle Davis

It seems natural for people to have a spirit of adventure and want to explore—at least the people who came West in the pioneer days all had that desire to strike out for themselves into a new part of the country.

Grandpa Davis (Adin Davis) must have had a great desire for adventure. As a very young man he sailed around South America with his father to get to the gold fields in 1847. They found lots of people there but no gold. The gold was not lying in the streets as they had presumed. They did not stay long but returned to Iowa again by way of Cape Horn. He married early but lost his wife. He had one daughter by his first wife, Ida May who married John Lock of Farmington. He later married Nancy Jane Holland in Council Bluffs, Iowa in 1865.

The following is an account of her life as told by Grandma Leonard (Mary Belle Davis) in 1961 when she came to stay with us during the summer when she was ninety years old.

In the days of the covered wagon trains, when the Northwest was being opened for settlement and the rolling hills and prairies of the Palouse were covered with bunch grass, my father, Adin Davis, and his family left Council Bluffs, Iowa in June 1871. My brother Horace was four years old, my sister Sarah was two years old and I was a baby of three months, having been born the preceding February. With the family was my Uncle Harlow and a teen-age half sister. The folks loaded their wagon with supplies for the trip—tools, tent, seeds, clothing and everything they could possibly take for use in the new home. The team was small and so nothing but necessities could be brought. Old Bill and Grey were tough and sturdy and lived many years after the strenuous trip and helped my Father carve a farm out of the bunch grass. It was a difficult trip, taking most of the long hot summer. When we reached Walla Walla it was fall and not having made preparations for the winter, it was decided that it would be best to stay in Walla Walla for the winter.

There was no log kept of the journey to our destination in Walla Walla. I often wished that I had questioned my parents more about their experiences on the trail, but it was accepted as ordinary then because most everyone had made the same trek, and when they began their new lives, they were much too busy to think much about what they considered routine. My parents did say that the Indian trouble that they had been warned about did not materialize. The dramatic accounts of Indian attacks and uprisings were either exaggerated or were past when they came. My mother was terrified of the Indians—the story of the Whitman Massacre had been told many times. Although it had taken place some twenty-four years before and the people were recovering somewhat from the fear that it instilled, the idea of Indian uprisings was still very strong. The trails were very poor and hazardous. My Mother would never consent to leave the wagon with us children when the going got rough because she feared being separated from my father and being lost on the trail.

My father left the family in Walla Walla while he continued on to Farmington, which was the end of the rainbow for him. He had heard such glowing reports of the country before he left Iowa that there was never any doubt in his mind where he wanted settle. His plan was to find just the right place for his homestead and secure it so that he could come back to it in spring. He needed a place close to the timber where he could get material to build with and where there was water and an open spot for a garden. The most logical place seemed to be near the timberline where he staked out a claim, then he returned to Walla Walla where he spent the rest of the winter with the family. He worked there at whatever he could find to do in order to keep his family fed and sheltered and to buy the supplies that would be needed for the trip to Farmington in the spring.

In the spring he fitted his wagon again and we set out for Farmington. When we arrived he found that a family named Price was living on the land he had staked. Father was disappointed but moved further down in the cove and located right on the border between Washington and Idaho territories. He found a good spring and we camped there for the summer. We set up camp and had our first meal there on July 4, 1872. I can imagine how difficult it was for my Mother to camp all summer and into the fall with three small children, but she felt fortunate to have water close at hand.

Father and Uncle Harlow built a log house. The house had two rooms and was heated by a fireplace and the kitchen stove. Uncle Harlow slept in the loft and gained access by way of slats nailed to the wall in the kitchen. The house had no windows the first year, but did boast a floor. Many of the homes in those early days did not have floors—ours had a puncheon floor and was made by splitting logs and fitting them together to make the floor as smooth as possible with a foot adz. The living room had two big beds with a trundel bed that disappeared under one of the beds where my brother Horace slept. The rains and snow came before the house was finished and they could move in about Thanksgiving time. My Father brought some chairs from Colfax and with our new home that even had a floor we were very happy and proud.

Father planted a family orchard of apples and cherries. There were no worms in the fruit or garden pests for a long time. Everything grew beautifully and easily. The land raised fine wheat, oats, corm and garden stuff. Horace spent much time hunting prairie chickens. After Father built a fence around the garden and orchard, it was often black with prairie chickens, so it was good fun and profitable to shoot the chickens as they were good eating.

Our family was one of the first to settle the area. There were several families that came earlier—George Briggs, Hi Young and the Truax Brothers. They probably came in 1869-70. Dick Truax had a wife and daughter who was four or five years old. She was Caddie McQueen later. The daughter, Bertha, was born some fifteen years later. They homesteaded in the Pigeon Hollow area. George Truax arrived with his wife and her son by a former marriage named Willie Home at about the same time. They had a little boy who was born here named Robbie. His was the first birth and also the first death as he died when he was about two years old. The children, Ada, May and Curtis were born later. Ada Truax was born on a cold, snowy St. Patrick’s day. My Mother was the midwife who attended at the birth and returned each day to bathe and dress the baby.

George Briggs was a bachelor and was one of the first settlers here. Hiriam Young and his family came and lived on a homestead approximately where the Jack Bennett family have their place. The father died soon after they came leaving Mrs. Young with three boys, Hiriam Jr., Charlie and Shum (Sherman). Shum Sherman married Ella Morrison and they lived at Sandpoint for some time.

Jessie Cash and his wife, Anna and one child, Fanny, settled near the timber about where August Wagner has his home. He taught school for awhile and was the first teacher of the first school in the community. The school was located in Idaho on the Breeden place, which is south of the road by Frank Leonard's place. The school was a one-roomed log building and the first community cemetery was in the schoolyard. The cemetery was enclosed by a rail fence and even covered over by wire to keep the children off. I remember playing ball in the schoolyard and having to look for the ball through the fence around the cemetery.

Mr. Cash broke his leg in an accident and because of inadequate care, he died. Mrs. Cash married a man named Perkins and they had three children. Mr. Perkins was a scoundrel and mistreated her and the children and animals. He ran off and left her and the children --went to the mines they said, but he never came back.

There were two Irvin brothers. "Long" Irvin was a bachelor. "Short" Irvin had a family. They settled out in the cove near the timber toward Pigeon Hollow (Roy Torpey's place). The Cummings family also lived up in the cove at Pigeon Hollow. The kids attended the school taught by Mr. Cash on the Breeden place. There was a large family, two boys, Sandy and Bill, and three girls that I can remember --Nellie, Mabel and Emma. It was their folks that plowed a furrow for their children to follow to school so that they would not become lost in the tall bunch grass. Nellie Cummings married John Torpey and was the mother of Roy Torpey.

The Chris Isenhart family lived out in Evergreen way where the Hopper place is. They didn't stay very long, but we went out there one spring day to visit and they had a pen for their sheep that was made of a double rail fence with straw batting between the fences to keep out of the wind and protect the animals.

About six years after we came here two brothers, Walt and Fred Hayfield came. They married the Harris sisters. The children of these two families grew up here and were an active part of the life of the community. Claude Hayfield was the local banker for many years.

The Davis kids and the Crumley kids played together and would run all over the mountains back of the Crumley place like wild deer. The Crumley family was large--those that I can remember were Allie, Gillie, Bama (short for Alabama), Sam and Chris. There were more that I cannot recall. Mrs. Crumley was from the South and often lamented that her Father's slaves had better living quarters in Alabama than she had. Gillie Crumley married Sam Price.

The people of the community had many ways of having fun and entertaining themselves. The school and the churches were the center of activity with programs, Literary Society on Friday night and often dances in the school house on Saturday night, Chautauquas, and revival meetings. The Fiddler, Davis, who was no relation, furnished the music for the dances.

The first wedding in Farmington was a double wedding when Ora Young was married to Enoch Rector and Hiriam Young and Rebecca Price were married by the Justice of Peace J.P. Quarrels at the Bill Gumm farm in December 1873. The Youngs lived on the flat north of us. Ora and Enoch Rector were the parent of Pearl Leuty--also Ruby and Bert who was born deaf and dumb. Grandma Young was the one who water-witched for Father and after several unsuccessful attempts to dig a well got a real good one under her direction. Amazing thing was that it was just a few feet from where he had dug.

E.E. Paddock came to Farmington in about 1879-80 and opened a jewelry shop. He had two daughters, Albra and Maude, and a son, Fred. Father always told time by a shaft of light that came in and struck a crack in the floor. Of course as the season progressed the shaft moved, but he kept time by it anyway. When Paddock opened his jewelry store, Father bought a Seth Thomas clock from him. He insisted that the clock was wrong and was continually trying to make it keep time with his original timepiece--the shaft of light. (Dorothy still has the clock)

My father was a hard worker and managed to do his own work and often work for one of his neighbors to have some cash money or in exchange for something he needed. He raised a lot of hogs and cured hams and bacon to sell. Butchering Bees were common where several neighbors came together to butcher. The backs and spare ribs were divided between those helping with the butchering thus assuring them a supply of fresh meat a good part of the time. He would butcher fifteen or twenty hogs at a time. Then the lard was rendered in a large kettle over an open fire in the yard. The surplus was sold or traded for something else.

Supplies were often hard to get. Father made cedar shakes when he ad the time and then traded or sold them. Each fall he made a trip to Walla Walla to get needed supplies for the winter. He took a load of shakes or grain that he had flailed out and brought back sugar (that was important to the kids), clothing, yard goods, seeds and other necessities. Shoes were a big item and were comparatively expensive even in those days. They were not very well constructed and as they did not have rubber footwear to cover them, they did not last very long. Each one in the family got a pair of shoes in the fall, which was to do them until the next fall. Often by February they had worn out; and then we went barefoot. I can remember going barefoot in the snow until my feet were so cold that I would rush in and warm them by the fireplace and then go out to play. They became so chapped and cracked that they would leave marks of blood in the snow. But we didn't think so much about that as many people did the same thing.

The first trip my Father made to Walla Walla he brought back hogs, cattle and chickens which gave us a start so we could produce our own. He worked cradling grain to pay for the supplies. Later on he took his grain to Palouse where there was a flourmill and had it ground for flour and bran and shorts for feed. My Mother made wheat and corn hominy by boiling the grain with lye, which was extracted from wood ashes. She made her own soap and tallow candles. She acted as midwife when babies were born in the community. There was not much sickness then but when a communicable disease it often became an epidemic and was very serious. All of us children had the Scarlet Fever when Sarah was fourteen years old. Horace and I were pretty sick, but Sister Sarah died. She was so very ill that Father sent a man by the name of Charley Young to Colfax for a doctor. He returned after what seemed like a very long time in a light buggy with the doctor, but it was too late to help Sarah.

Sarah and I would go to the neighbors by the name of Kemp and Mrs. Kemp would let us read the Youth Companion, which was a real treat. Sarah was very studious and loved to read and I loved to hear.

There was a family named Materson that moved up near the timber who had several boys. These boys were pretty wild and after a drinking bout would come in to shoot up the town. They were involved in horse stealing and the people became tired of their actions and formed a vigilante committee and made it hot for them.

One spring in about 1876 when Father was out in the field an Indian whose name was Timothy came by. He was a good friend and often helped with tasks around the place. He warned Father that the Indians were on the prowl. He told Father "Indians kill one white man--you get". The white man referred to was John Ritchie who was found with his head split open. Loaded all the family and what provisions he could on the wagon and in a short time was in the fort in Farmington.

The fort was an enclosure of split logs placed on end. There were small windows high in the walls of the stockage for observation. The fort was built on a knoll where Byron Powells green house is now. (Or where the potato cellar is now.) There were eight or ten families with numerous children encamped there. One family had five children sleeping in one bed and Horace wanted to know how they could do that and one of the boys said, "What if there were ten". Each family brought his own food and straw ticks to sleep on. The cooking was done on a common stove but each family fixed his own food. Horace was an incorrigible mischief that he worried my Mother so much that she finally decided that she would just as soon have the Indians get them as to put up with Horace and his shenanigans. So they went home after about a week and found that the Indians had ransacked the house but nothing of value was taken. They were gone and did not bother us again.

Horace was always in trouble with folks and no matter how severe the punishment was he could always find something else to do to plague our parents. Once he took a rope and tied it to Sarah's waist and then to his pony and then threw clods at the horse to make him trot and thought it great fun to see Sarah run. She finally fell down and the horse drug her for a ways. He was shipped soundly for this escapade, but it didn't seem to keep him from trying something else. Once when we were walking along a trail and he was bringing up the rear and casting his penknife at our heels, he finally intentionally or otherwise hit Sarah in the heel and he was chastised again. One day he called my sister and I into the garden to show us what he had found under a cabbage. It was a big lump of brown sugar that he insisted had grown there. We were not that gullible and knew that he had taken it from the barrel in the smokehouse, but we did not tell on him because we thought that we might share in the spoils and I presume that we did.

The first Post Office was in the stockade as I remember and must have opened around 1877 or so. It was known as Pine Creek and was not called Farmington for several years. The first Postmaster was a man by the name of Brewer. He had a wife and two boys. He was crippled and was a Mormon from Utah. The first store of any kind was also in the stockade.

Along about 1876 my Father took a load of wheat to Spokane Falls to sell. He came back with the report that there was nothing there but Indians and rocks and he wouldn't have it as a gift.

When my brother Horace was about twelve years old, there was an Indian scare. We had gone to Colfax to a camp meeting, which was one of our few recreations. Horace was left at home to take care of the stock and do the chores. Colfax was a small settlement of about a dozen houses and had no fort. When some river Indians were seen riding along the ridge above the town, the people gathered together in the lower end of the gully and if the Indians had decided to attack they were pretty vulnerable. About four o'clock Horace and Mr. McCabe came riding into the encampment hot and dusty - they had heard the rumor of an attack and had hastened down to the encampment. While we were camped there, there was an epidemic of diphtheria. The children seemed most susceptible and most of the ones taking it died and were buried immediately in the Colfax cemetery. I remember going into a tent where there were three beds and three very sick people. I sat for awhile watching what was going on - no one noticed me and after a bit I wandered out. My mother was very upset and was sure that I would get this dread disease, but luckily I didn't nor did anyone else in the Davis or the Cummings family who had gone to the meeting with us.

The Methodist Church was the first church in Farmington and my father who was one of the trustees and had helped get the church organized was one of the men whose name appeared on the original deed. The church was an important part of our lives and there were many programs and entertainments held there. The Christmas program was always well attended and there was a decorated Christmas tree with lighted candles on it. I remember seeing a paper chain used to decorate the tree catching fire. A man standing near by reached up and pinched out the fire. There was such a large crowd that people were standing in the back and if there had been a serious fire it would have been a disaster.

After Mr. Cash left as teacher, a woman by the name of Minnie Allen taught. When the schoolhouse in the new town was built, all the pupils from the Breedan School moved to the new school. A man by the name of Kenedy was the first teacher I can remember. Later on when the town had grown considerably, Mr. and Mrs. Pussey taught all twelve grades. Mr. and Mrs. Pussey also edited a newspaper in the town.

It was my job to bring in the cows each night to be milked. They pastured where the town of Farmington was to be laid out. The bunch grass was so tall that I could not see them, but by going up on the hill overlooking the lower ground I could see the grass wave as the cows passed through and sometimes I could hear the cow bells when things were still. Then I knew about where to find them.

My brother Horace found a baby badger in the field one day as he was plowing and brought him home to me. He was the nicest pet I ever had and became as friendly as a dog. He would follow me to town or wherever I would go. As he grew older he began to kill chickens, which is very natural, but it made my mother very unhappy. I tried everything I could to keep him from them but he just would get them. Finally my father said that he would have to go. I was broken-hearted but finally consented to give him up. We took him with us on a trip to Palouse to the flourmill. We left him along a creek where we thought he might make out. I was inconsolable and finally my father said that if we could find him when we came back we would take him back in spite of his bad habit of raiding the chickens. But we couldn't find him and had to go home without him. Later we heard that a farmer had shot a badger in his chicken yard about that time; so I presume my little friend was the one.

One fall my father was called to sit on a jury in Colfax. It was a murder trial. My Uncle Harlow was working at that time in Spokane as a carpenter. He had lived with us ever since we came to Farmington. He had never married. He was working on a building and hurrying to finish before the bad weather came, but it rained and he kept on working. He took cold and contracted pneumonia. He became very ill and they sent for my father who was locked up with the jury and never received the message. By the time the trial was over, Uncle Harlow was gone and his body was brought back to Farmington for burial. (1881)

The Fish brothers came to Farmington early - Mose and Sadie, Dan and Nellie. Mose Fish and his wife had no children; Dan and his wife had three sons, Frank, Russell and Fred and a daughter name Agnes McClung who lives in Spokane now. The Fish brothers lived in Virginia City shortly after the days of the vigilantes. Mose had a blacksmith shop there and opened one here when they came. Dan homesteaded and his family are still on the original place. Mose's wife came out from Maine to meet him in Winnamuca. Then they came on to Farmington.

When I was a young lady about sixteen years old an uncle came from Iowa to visit. He hired a rig from the livery stable and we went up on Steptoe Butte where Cash-up Davis had his hotel. It was very impressive. They had live music and quite a gay time. We had dinner and then drove home in the dark. It was an unforgettable experience for a young girl who had never been so far from home before.

Mrs. Evans had a millinery shop close to where the bank is now and I worked for her for awhile waiting on customers and making hats when there were no customers. I also cooked in a cookhouse several harvests. The threshing crews moved from one farm to another and the cookwagon followed. Another girl and I prepared the meals and served them to the men. They started work early and worked late. There were lunches to fix midmorning and midafternoon besides the three big meals. We baked pies and bread every day. Lots of food was consumed because the men worked very hard.

The train came in about 1886 and later on the depot was built. Now we not only had a connection with the rest of the country, but more people were able to come in and the town grew and prospered for awhile. The roundhouse was here for a few years and then was move to Tekoa. The coming of the passenger trains to Farmington made a bit of excitement - it was the thing for people, especially the young ones, to walk down or drive down to see the train come in. Much of the courting of the couples was done on these excursions to the depot. I can remember many times that my husband-to-be and I walked or drove down to meet the train. If there was to be any excitement in the town with new arrivals or departures we would be in on it.

My husband came from Capron, Illinois in Boone County. He arrived here when he was 21 and lived with his sister and her husband, Dr. John Grimm. The Grimms had been here for a few years. They had two daughters, Lura and Amber. Al worked around the community; he was handy at most anything and did a lot of carpentering. He helped build the Grimm house, which has been a landmark all these years.

We were married on December 20, 1887 and lived in Farmington until 1916. We farmed in several locations and moved to Spokane so that the girls could attend high school there. Young Albert was in the second grade when we left. My mother and my brother both passed away in 1918. My father who was quite elderly moved to Spokane and lived with us until his death in 1923. We lived then in Spokane where our children grew up.

We never thought that we were making history or that anyone would be interested in our ordinary lives. There should be a way of chronicling these older people who try to fill in the pieces.

As told to Beulah Leonard

This account has been made especially for the benefit of our children and family. It is not intended to have any literary value to anyone else.

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