This little history of some of the early migrants to California may be of interest to the present generation, for with the advance of civilization and modes of travel since the discovery of Gold in California it is quite hard for the present generation to comprehend the difficulties encountered and overcome in reaching the Golden Land of California as well as the heart-breaking experiences. All of the experiences of which I shall tell in this Chapter were told to me by my Father and Mother, Mr. and Mrs. Henry N. Howe.
My Father, Henry N. Howe and his brother, James S. Howe, were both born in the State of Maine. The two brothers were lumbermen, or sawmill operators. But, when news of the discovery of Gold in California reached them, they caught the Gold fever in a virulent form so much so that they decided to join the Gold hunters, but as each had a wife and three children depending on them and very little money, the problem was a hard one. Finally, they heard of a sailing ship about ready to sail for California a little short of the necessary sailors to navigate the ship, and they finally engaged passage on the sailing vessel, agreeing to pay one-half of their fare to California in money, and the other half in labor as a common sailor before the mast. The meaning Before the Mast was that the common sailor quarters were in the Forcastle in the forward part of the ship, while the Skipper or Captain and Ship's Officers (consisting of First and Second Mates and Boatswain or Navigator) lived in the Cabin aft or the back part of the ship.
The duty of the sailor before the mast was to keep the deck of the ship clean, to stand watch in turn so long a time each night, and be ready to hoist more sail if necessary, or take in sail if the wind was too strong, which was dangerous at times, for they had to climb rope ladders and take down sails and furl them, (that is, wrap ropes around them to keep them from being torn.) Taking in sail of a dark stormy night was anything but pleasure.
The sailing vessel which the Howe Brothers took passage on was to sail for California by way of Cape Horn, the Southern-most point of South America, and sailed late in November, 1849.
The reason was, that the ship would reach Cape Horn in January which was summertime and insuring calmer weather in which to Double the Cape as the term meaning To change the course of the ship in the Atlantic Ocean to a Northwest course in the Pacific Ocean.
The Howe Brothers were strong fearless husky men of the ages of 29 and 31, weighing about 165 pounds. They had many new experiences. There was an old custom among sailors that the first time a sailor crossed the imaginary line called the Equator, he must treat the ship's crew to the grog (liquor of different kinds kept in the ship's locker) the Captain holding the key, but dealt out to the sailors at different times.
When the ship crossed the Equator the sailors demanded that the Howe Brothers fulfill the time honored custom of treating to the grog or else be shaved with a dull razor. The Howe Brothers refused on the grounds that they were paying passengers as well. This caused some enmity on the part of some of the old sailors, and a beautiful New-Foundland Dog which the Brothers were bringing to California was missing one morning, and suspicion pointed to a surly sailor as having thrown the dog overboard.
The food or rations of the ship's crew of the Before the Mast sailors consisted of Salt Horse as the sailors called corned beef, hard-tack for bread, which in some cases was full of weavils and my Father told me that the sailors had a habit of thumping the hard-tack on the table to rid it of the weavils. There were also potatoes, beans, dried apples, black molasses, but not butter or milk, sugar for tea and coffee, sometimes for lack of vegetables, the sailors fell victim to scurvy. The water for the voyage was stored in wooden tanks for the entire voyage for the ship did not enter any port till it reached San Francisco and my Father told me that after so long on the Ocean the water got thick and ropey, but after a time regained its natural consistency. Sometimes the sailors would be put on rations of water and have to wash in salt water which was plentiful.
The vessel reached Cape Horn and rounded the Cape alright and headed Northwest on the Western Coast of South America for California. As the weather was fair there was a steady wind which the sailors called Trade Winds. The trip was enjoyable and early in May 1850 the ship entered the Golden Gate to find the San Francisco Bay teaming with deserted vessels, keepers in charge. The sailors in many cases had gone gold hunting.
Work at high wages was plentiful in San Francisco, but the Brothers would stay only long enough to earn another grub stake and off again for another gold stampede. Even repeated failures did not seem to discourage them for they always had hope that the next would be a winner. Being determined men and having a fair knowledge of the lumbering business (California was having a building boom) lumber for building in great demand at high prices. The Brothers engaged in that business and after nearly two years struggle acquired money enough to send for their families, whom they had left in the East. In the next chapter I will give the experiences of the wives as told me.
While the Howe brothers came around Cape Horn in a sailing vessel because of lack of funds, to come by steamship was too arduous a trip by way of Cape Horn for the Families of the two brothers consisting of nine in all, thus a trip around Cape Horn with the families of each, consisting of the wife and three children of Henry Howe, and the wife and three children of James Howe, and Simeon Howe, the father of the two brothers, who came with them as caretaker and business manager was made.
None of the children was more than nine years old, ranging down to two years.
The father of the Howe brothers who came with them as caretaker was about fifty-three years old. The writer of this article never was told what the expense of the passage for the two families amounted to, but in those days you may be sure it was plenty. On receipt of the passage money Simeon Howe the father of the two brothers in California engaged passage on a steamship carrying only passengers and clothing to San Francisco, by way of the Isthmus of Panama landing passengers on the East side of the Isthmus at Accapulco, passengers crossing the Isthmus a distance of thirty miles or so by foot or pack mules, or in many cases children were carried on the backs of natives across the Isthmus to Panama on the Pacific side, and thence by steamship North to San Francisco.
The voyage from the East to the Isthmus was a stormy one, and the steamer, an old side wheeler had the misfortune to have a broken main shaft, and lay floundering in the stormy sea while the steamer's crew sawed the broken shaft and rigged another bearing on the crank side still intact, so that the engines could drive the only paddle wheel. This took several days and nights. Because of crude tools, the sea sickness of nearly all the passengers, and the ship's crew almost mutinous, the deck of the vessel and even in the cabins, especially in the steerage, (a place for second class passengers) became filthy and the sea was so stormy that even the Captain feared the moment when the steamer would go to the bottom. My Mother told me that the vessel rocked so that even the dishes on the dining tables moved about, and that passengers in some cases would hold the dishes containing food in their laps.
Finally after many days of stormy weather, by the aid of one side wheel and emergency sails, the steamer struggled into port at Accapulco. After landing at Accapulco the passengers had to shift for themselves as to living and housing.
They were weak and discouraged and the Father in charge was at his wits end. However, the weather became more calm and gradually the seasick passengers regained their strength and appetites (which in most cases was ravenous.) My Mother told me that food supplies in Accapulco were limited, and that old sour bread pones and dried beef which was cut in long ropey strings heavily salted, and sold by the yard, was the main diet, and it was no uncommon sight to see a passenger with a dry pone of bread under his arm and wrestling with a hunk of dried meat in his hand. However, as all things must come to an end, the Howe party sufficiently recovered from their rough experiences, made preparations to cross the mountain range to Panama on the Pacific Side, where they expected to take passage on the steamer for San Francisco. As I have already stated, it was about thirty miles over a low mountain range to Panama and the path or trail led to the summit of the mountain.
Arrangements were finally made for the trip. The women were given a burro each to ride (an experience which they said they never would forget.) Their bedding and whatever wardrobe they may have had was loaded on pack burros or were carried on the backs of native children big enough to walk.
Many of the natives had a foot disease (called Jiggers) a tiny little worm which got between their toes and caused festering and as all of the natives went barefoot the disease became quite prevalent.
After weary days of slow travel up the Chaguis river through tropical undergrowth infested with chattering monkeys, venomous bugs, and feverous nights tormented by fever laden mosquitos and malarial bugs, the Howe party along with others, reached Panama, only to be faced by a more terrible experience than their stormy ocean passage, for they caught the Panama fever.
Imagine the feelings of Father Howe, as we shall hereafter call him, and the wives of the Howe brothers' two families, when faced with a siege of Panama fever, especially in their weakened condition and facing the uncertain arrival of the steamship which they expected to take them to San Francisco. Father Howe's finances were about exhausted and two of the children, the oldest of each family stricken with fever, died.
After what seemed to the Howe party an endless waiting, the smoke of a steamer from San Francisco appeared at sea. But here another disappointment met them for when Father Howe presented his (as he supposed) through tickets to San Francisco, the passenger agent would not accept them, giving as his excuse that the steamship line had changed hands and that they would have to charge extra passage to San Francisco. Can anyone think of anything more heart-breaking than to be left in this awful condition? But through the intercession of friendly passengers, the passenger agent was finally persuaded to take the Howe families on board for San Francisco, and collect money for passage at San Francisco. Arriving in San Francisco where Father Howe expected to meet his two sons, he again met with disappointment, for they did not meet the Howe party. So Father Howe engaged a man and a team of horses or mules to take his party to a place near Redwood City called Searsville, the last location known of the Howe brothers. On the way to this little burg which was about thirty-five miles distant, the Howe party was resting about noon for lunch and feeding the teams. The party saw two heavily bearded men approaching on horseback. The women with all their sad experiences still could enjoy a bit of pleasantry, said to one another, Why there is Henry, and, By Golly, there is James.
And sure enough, they were right. Imagine, if you can, this meeting after more than two years' separation. The embraces, the sobs of joy, the tears of sorrow over lost ones, and the hearty handshakes the two brothers gave to their brave old Dad. The recounting of many reminiscences and experiences, hopes and fears, and also the story of the brothers who said they heard that the vessel on which they expected their families had foundered at sea, and that they were on their way to search the seashore for traces of their loved ones. Surely, it was a happy reunion that day. This reunion took place some time about April, 1852.
During the last few months the brothers had abandoned mining and had engaged in the sawmill business. Having bought a sawmill on the installment plan, and as lumber was high priced, and a building boom was on, the brothers felt encouraged, so they took their two families to where the mill was located some twelve miles Southwest of Redwood City. United with their families, they were encouraged and happy again. Although they were without many necessities and comforts of life, for the steamboat on which the families came, carried only passengers, and the household goods were shipped from the East on a sailing vessel, destination - San Francisco, via Cape Horn. The vessel was never heard from and my Mother told me that they cut Redwood branches to use as mattresses for bedding.
The milling business prospered temporarily and about the last of January, 1853, there was an addition to the Henry Howe family. That addition came not around Cape Horn, neither by the Isthmus of Panama, but by the stork route and they named him Frank. About two months later there was an addition to the James Howe family by the same route, namely the stork. It was a girl and they named her Sarah. So Frank and Sarah were the first real Californians in the Howe families.
Things went fairly well for over a year and the Howe brothers had the sawmill about half paid for, when there came a slack in the building boom because of another Gold excitement. The natural consequence was, no demand for lumber, but abnormal prices for food on account of the mining rush. The price of flour soared to twenty-five dollars for a fifty pound sack - fifty cents a pound for bacon and beans, and everything else in proportion. The brothers could not meet their payments on the mill, so lost out.
Stranded again, they joined the crowd of Gold hunters and went to Mariposa Gold fields, where stories of Nuggets of gold of great value were often found. They lived in tents and the women folks made a constant battle against vermin such as black ants, red ants and poisonous gnats. The brothers' tents were close to each other and the two young Californians, Frank and Sarah, mentioned, were constant companions and (incidentally the very earliest in the memory of this writer) was a little boy and a little girl, both barefoot standing side by side lifting first one foot and then the other out of the hot sand, their little faces streaked with tears and dust, crying for Mother (for they were lost) when two miners on their way to camp for dinner picked the little tots up and delivered them to their anxious mothers.
The mining boom, as far as the Howe brothers were concerned, was again a failure. So they moved to the town of San Jose in Santa Clara County, and while living in San Jose went through some memorable experiences, for the lure of the gold in California had attracted all classes of migrants, among whom were robbers, thieves, desperate gamblers, cut-throats, criminals of every sort and conditions got beyond the control of organized law.
A vigilance committee was organized under the supervision of a Texas ranger, Colonel Jack Hayes. It was then that things began to happen, for my Mother told me that she looked out of the doors of the house, they were living in San Jose, and saw three men hanging from the limbs of one tree. But whether or not, mob law is wrong, it had a satient effect on things generally and the six gun became less a medium of exchange.
Reverting again to the fortunes of the Howe brothers, after the mining boom quieted down, they tried working for wages or farming with varying success, filed a claim on a redwood timber claim in the Santa Cruz mountains and again engaged in the sawmill business. They decided to build a mill after their own type and within their own means, as far as possible. There was a great deal of preliminary work to do, first, some kind of habitation. They had to chop down trees, saw off logs, and split boards for roofing, smooth the rough floors with a tool called an adz (a sort of mattick) with a sharp edge.
After this was done, work was begun on the sawmill. They had to split out and hew all of the timbers of different sizes for the construction of the mill which was to be driven by water power, and as the supply of water to drive the machinery was limited, they had to construct a water wheel of greater diameter, narrow buckets. They chose a natural pond or lagoon for a reservoir to impound sufficient water during twenty-four hours to run the mill ten to twelve hours. They dug a ditch nearly half a mile long to carry the water in the stream to this reservoir. They chose a sort of narrow gorge in the canyon some sixty feet below the level of the water in the reservoir. They had to hew out the arms of spokes to build the water wheel, which was fifty-three feet in diameter, making the spokes about twenty-six feet long.
They were more than two years getting the mill into operation. They had to build skid roads to get the logs to the mill (a skid road is a dirt road laid with cross ties made of oak limbs about eight inches in diameter with the. bark taken off and smeared with tallow so that the logs will slide easily) and roads to get the lumber away from the mill. They operated the mill in company up to about the year 1861 when my father, Henry Howe, sold out his half interest in the mill, and moved down to the San Jose valley on a farm. The high water of the winter of 1862 washed the mill away. My father never received his pay for the balance due him, and from that time on the partnership of the two brothers ceased as far as this history is concerned.
From that time on, one or two years or more, my father farmed and teamed until about 1864. When his brother-in-law told him of a fabulous strike in the Cariboo Gold Mines in British Columbia on the Fresier river, and persuaded my father to go with him, and finance the outfit. My father borrowed money to finance the outfit and gave his team of mules as security. They spent all of the summer of 1864 in a fruitless search for gold and came back in the fall broke. My father never got anything back for the money he advanced to finance the gold hunt, but lost his team because he could not redeem it.
Let me say here that some of the hardships encountered by his family will be told in the following words:
On leaving for the Carriboo mines my Father left his family, then consisting of his wife and seven children, on the farm. My oldest brother, eighteen, had a job, but, somehow there seemed to be a lack of variety of food on the table but my Mother kept us going to school. Your writer was then eleven years old. In coming home from school in the afternoon, a group of children found a fifty pound sack of flour which had been lost off the load of a freight team going to the quick silver mines. One of the larger boys said, Who wants this sack of flour? Your writer said I do. The big boy put the sack of flour on my back and after resting many times, I finally got to our house. My Mother, on seeing me, burst into tears and said it was a God send for the flour barrel was about empty.
As I stated, Henry N. Howe returned from the Carriboo mines penniless, but he went to work and slowly saved enough money to buy a span of horses working on County roads. He had to leave the little ranch because of the mortgage and the perfidy of a would be friend. He bought a few herd of cows and in company with another man, rented a vineyard and hay ranch. But the hay was all spoiled, and made worthless by the rain in haying time. His partner had to borrow money to pay the hired help, and as my father's partner in the business had no money, my father's cows were attached and sold at sheriff's sale to pay the bill. My father still had his span of horses which were exempt by law. And then at harvest time 1866, he hired out on a threshing machine with his team, and I, his son Frank, then thirteen years old, hired out to the same threshing outfit to buck the straw away from the thresher.
Again we moved to another location to some new land covered in part by poison oak brush which had to be dug up before it could be seeded. The land was hilly and we would plow around and around the hill with two horses and a single plow, and when the crop was ready to harvest we cut it with a reaper, raking the grain off the platform by hand in bunches and then picking the bunches up with a pitchfork. In other words, the grain was handled five times by hand before it finally was put in the sacks. Now with our big combines the standing grain is never touched by hand until it is put into the sack.
Again in 1869 or 1870 my Father moved farther back into the hills and added wood chopping and wood hauling to market in San Jose. A year of this and he again moved to the valley six miles South of San Jose, on a farm and while there took a job in a sawmill sixteen miles from Redwood City, leaving some of his sons to look after the farming and harvesting. While working for the sawmill, the sawmill company who owned six eight mule teams to haul their lumber to Redwood City, thinking it would be less trouble and worry, decided to sell the teams on the installment plan, letting those who bought the teams pay for them in hauling lumber, reserving one-half of the price of hauling as payment on the team, and paying cash to the teamster for the other half for operating expenses.
My Father bought one team, my brothers Fred and Ernest and I helped in driving the teams, for my Father soon added the second team. We stayed with the teaming business two or three seasons or until the sawmill had ceased operation on account of the scarcity of milling timber.
During the intervals between milling seasons which activities were in the spring and summer, we did plowing in winter and spring. In the fall of 1874 we rented a ranch near Vallejo in Solano County and engaged in wheat raising, and during the interval between seed time and harvest, took a job of hauling chrome iron about twelve miles from St. Helena in Napa County. Chrome iron is a black coal-like mineral out of which the finest Chrome point is made. After the harvest and season at Vallejo was over in 1875, we heard of the rich land just being settled up in what was called the Mussel Slough country in what was then Tulare County, and we got sold on the stories of two crops of grain in one season in an irrigated country where one could have control of the moisture. So in the Fall of 1875 in September, your writer came on horseback in company of an old cattle man who had told us about the rich irrigated land. We were five days on the journey down the West side of the great San Joaquin Valley, crossing the Straits of Carquinis between Benecia and Martinez not far from the base of Mount Diablo. We stopped the fifth night at the little town of Grangeville in what was called the Mussel Slough Country, so named because of the abundance of a shell fish called the mussel. We stayed over night at the farm of a friend of my companion whose name was Welcome Fowler and there we saw about September Fifteenth, volunteer wheat all headed out which had volunteered from the shattered wheat of the harvest of June previous. Also the water melons. My companion on the trip down the valley, as I have stated before, was a cattle man whose name was William F. Woods. He had bought three hundred and twenty acres of land from the Southern Pacific Railroad Company. There was due about half the purchase price. I accepted the offer he made to farm the land and pay the balance due and go fifty-fifty in dividing the land. I started back to my Father's home at Vallejo, anxious to make arrangements to move down to the new holdings and arrange to commence farming the coming winter, for there were many things to do in the next two months. Such as erecting shelter for the term, digging a well for water, also hauling feed and seed from wherever we could purchase it, getting farming rigging such as plows and harrows adapted to the country farming and work to do on the ditches that we might have water to irrigate; also, to move the crop of grain raised at Vallejo, yet unsold.
On my way back to Vallejo, the horse I had ridden down the valley and looking different places, got footsore and the last one hundred miles on the return trip was slow and besides, my pocket book was only holding about a dollar, and I had to pay crossing the ferry at Martinez. I arrived home at Vallejo, the horse and I a rather sorry looking pair. But there was no time to lose. I told my father all about what I had done and we began getting ready to move. We had first to deliver our unsold crop of grain.
It was arranged that my brother Fred and I should go down to the new country the first year, while the rest of the family would follow the next Fall. So my brother Fred and I, after delivering the grain crop to the warehouse, made ready to move out. We were ready to start South about the first of October, 1875. We had eight mules, four wagons, and a grain header, some wheat seed, our bed rolls, and some cooking utensils; also two men and their bedding, who were going to try the new country. One of the men was G. L. Fletcher who settled in the neighborhood near the Eucalyptus school house and who lived there many years until his death. The other man was a James M. Moore, who farmed in company with your writer, running harvesting machinery Moore, who farmed under the company name of Howe and Moore. We were nine or ten days en route down the West side of the San Joaquin Valley and finally reached the land on which we intended to be our future home, about seven miles Southeast of the town site of Hanford. In fact the King School House is now standing on part of the land we were to farm.
The trip down the valley had little excitement to break the monotony of the warm days. We had a dog along who had never seen a jackrabbit and about the first jackrabbit he saw he chased and he was gone so long that we did not know but that he got lost. However, he finally came back to the outfit nearly famished for water. We gave him a drink and a ride for awhile. Thereafter he did not chase a rabbit very far, and finally would not chase one at all. Our nearest Post Office was Grangeville, for the only inhabitants of the present site of Hanford were a Chinaman, a band of sheep, and his sheep dog.
When we reached the place where we were to live, our first work was to dig a well to supply us with water which was reached at about twelve feet and drawn up by hand with a bucket on the end of a rope. The next job was to find hay for our mules, which we found in the vicinity of Grangeville. Then we had to have some kind of a cabin to live in and also some kind of a shed for our mules and seed wheat which we found at or near Lemoore. Then we went to work helping to build the Lakeside ditch taking our pay in ditch stock.
Once in a while we had a little excitement, for a husky young man who had a claim joining ours started to dig a well. He dug about six feet the first day, throwing the dirt out with his shovel. The next day he dug down to water about six feet more. He was then about twelve feet down, but he had dug the hole so steep and large that he could not find footing to get out. Our camp was only a few hundred yards away and we heard him calling and went over and assisted him in getting out. Those dug wells were quite plentiful and sometimes one would see an incline dug to the bottom, where some animal which had fallen in had been rescued.
In showing some visitors about one day, I saw a mound of dirt nearby, and took the visitors over to show them how deep it was, when on looking we saw a horse at the bottom. He was mired in the soft mud. We called on the nearest neighbor and he said that they had been hunting that horse for two days. Well, we went to work and dug an incline and finally got the horse out, but his legs were so numb that it was several days before he could travel good. The horse, when he saw that he was found, whinnied for joy. Other amusing if not serious things happened. There were no roads on any defined lines, just trails or wagon tracks going in all directions. One man who had his cabin not far from our camp had been to Lemoore about fifteen miles distant, started quite late in the afternoon and was overtaken by darkness about half way to his cabin. He was riding one horse and leading another and as it grew darker he became a little bewildered. He traveled on till he thought he had gone far enough and decided to wait until daylight. He took the saddle off his horse and laid it down on the ground, using it for a pillow, and his saddle blanket to cover himself, and tied the two horses to the saddle horn and waited for morning. In telling the story himself, he said the night seemed a hundred years long; and when daylight came he said he was only a short distance from his cabin. His horse would have taken him home if let alone.
Back to my story. We worked on the ditch, got our feed and seed ready, shelter built for our mules, our plow and equipment ready; and as we had sufficient rain to wet the soil deep enough to plow, we turned the first furrow on the first day of December, 1875. I omitted to state that while working on the ditch one morning, a man came riding up the ditch and seeing us newcomers at work, he asked me what our names were. I told him my name was Frank Howe. He repeated the name to himself and then said to me, I used to know a young man who worked with me on a threshing machine up in the San Jose valley, by the name of Warren Howe. Are you any kin to him? And I answered, Yes, He is my oldest brother.
This man who was superintendent of the ditch gave his name as Edwin Jay Dibble, and herein comes a little digression from this which might be called a romance for about seven years before this, my father's family lived in the San Jose valley and my oldest brother Warren was working with a threshing machine. One Sunday afternoon, my Mother told me to take my brother Warrens change of garments to him. It was about four miles; I went on horseback and found my brother and another man tinkering on the machine, getting it ready for Monday morning. It was afternoon, and the strange man asked me to bring him a jug of fresh water from a well nearby. I brought the fresh water and after he had quenched his thirst he looked at me and said in a joking way, Boy, I have a little girl eight years old and I am going to give her to you some day. He little thought that joking promise would some day be fulfilled. About nine years after, on New Year's Eve of the year 1876, I attended a little New Year's country dance at the home of Mr. James Owens in Lakeside, the father of Mrs. M. L. Short, wife of our late Superior Judge M. L. Short of Kings County. Being a stranger, one of the young men present asked me if I would like to take part. I answered, Yes.
He asked me Which one of those three girls sitting across the room would you prefer as a partner? I told him I would like the one with the long black curls. That acquaintance ripened into a lasting friendship, for on the twenty-second day of May, 1877 that young lady became my wife, and for more than sixty-one years was my faithful helpmate and proved to be the little girl her father gave me eight years before ----- Annie Dibble. (Note: My wife came from Iowa with her father's family, Mr. & Mrs. E. J. Dibble, across the plains in a covered wagon in the year 1865.)
Back to the story. After our crop had been planted our next move was to make ditches to irrigate our grain; and we had many experiences and a lot to learn about running water over the land, for the land was full of badger holes and the banks of the ditches were loose and kept breaking constantly. In the daytime we were constantly beset by tiny black gnats; in the evening, clouds of grease bugs filled the air; and at night the mosquitos made nighttime hideous. Some time in March my father and a neighbor came down from the valley for a visit. My Father was pleased with the country generally, and after a weeks visit left us boys encouraged.
Time passed along and harvest grew near. We made the necessary repairs to our header and about the fifteenth of May we began heading, with a crew of six young men named respectively: James M. Moore, Joe Blend, Roy Dibble, Morris Howells, Fred Howe and your writer Frank Howe. We worked fifty-five days and the last dinner we ate together we made a bargain that sometime in the future we would again have dinner together. That promise we kept just sixty years after, 1936 at Pioneer's Day in Tulare City. We celebrated the sixtieth anniversary of that dinner and all six of us sat at the same table for dinner. The six boys before named had gathered from different parts of California to attend the dinner; Roy Dibble from Reno, Nevada, Morris Howells, Los Angeles, California, Joe Blend, Sacramento, California, J. M. Moore, Alameda, California, Fred Howe, Tulare, California and Frank Howe of Hanford, California, and the writer dedicated a little bit of a poem to that occasion.
This little ode is written to the members
Of a crew of boys who formed a Header Crew
When the harvest fields of old Tulare County
Were calling to us Sixty years ago.
Morris Howells whose soft and lovely tenor
Wiled away the evening hours before we slept
And memories of those days of Friendship ever
Are a solace that those vows have all been kept.
Joe Blend, he was the tallest of the sextet,
Whom the neighbors gave the nickname of Wild Bill,
Whose antics as an athlete oft amused us
And it seemed as though he never would be still.
Roy Dibble was the youngest of the workers
Who was ever ready in a time of need,
Who was never found in company of shirkers
And wished his worth be measured by his deed.
Fred Howe, Old Ironsides they called him,
Was always found upon the firing line;
And when you needed help youd always find him
Standing ready for to help at any time.
Marsh Moore he was the Sage of the whole outfit,
Kept a curb upon our hasty words and acts;
And dimly now I see on walls of memory
Fruit of his ever kindly words and tact.
Your Scribe was then a member of that outfit
And Sixty Milestones now have just been passed
And the memories of those harvest days still linger
And will never be effaced while life shall last.
John Covert and Frank Pryor were our Mascots,
Both names are written on the walls of Fame
We are happy to record that when we meet them
That their greeting then and now is just the same.
Many faces of our old time friends are missing
As we look back on the Pages of the Past,
But their pictures on our memories are graven
And will never be effaced while life shall last.
And the memories of the Pioneers, our forbears
Who paved the way for better things this side,
Are stirred; as when we look upon the tombstones
That mark their trek across the last divide.
-----Frank E. Howe
After heading season was over and our grain was threshed, we began hauling our grain to market at Tulare, fourteen miles distant. It took a full day's time to make the trip with a load of seventy-five sacks of wheat, for the road was soft and sandy. After we had hauled our grain to market we took a job of hauling lumber for the Lakeside Ditch Company, to be used for headgates and checks; checks to raise the water in the main ditches, and laterals to the necessary level of distribution to the different ranches. We were to have the lumber from the Smith and Moore sawmill about sixty-five miles distant in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, about one-half rough mountain road. It took about eight days to make the trip. After we had hauled the lumber for the ditch company, we then hauled the lumber to build a dwelling house for my Father's folks whom we expected in the following October.
Time passed swiftly for we had the coming winter's feed to provide and a house or two to build for the coming of my Father's family, and also of my oldest brother and wife. We were very busy getting ready, when one afternoon late in October, my Father's folks came rolling into camp. My Father and Mother, and a younger brother, and my youngest sister, about fourteen years old. Well, it was a sort of reunion that evening, recounting incidents of the trip down the San Joaquin Valley by the newcomers; and the relating by Fred and me of the things we had done, and the things we were going to do. However business was lively on that ranch, for the lumber for the house was on the ground and it was drawing near the time when we should expect rain.
The Old Sawyer's Reverie
The Old man filled and lighted his pipe
And slowly sat down it his old arm chair.
He watched the blue rings of smoke in its flight
As it was lost to his sight in the evening air.
He thought of the days he was dressed in his mill togs
And ran the big sawmill down by the stream.
Again he saw the big pond full of saw logs
And heard from the engines, the hissing of steam.
Again in his fancy he held the big lever
Then moved the big carriages backward and forth,
And wondered as he rolled the big sugar pine log on
On how much the lumber in it would be worth.
He smiled as the screwturner* drove the steel dog in
That held the log fast in the carriage embrace,
And he bit a fresh quid off his plug of tobacco
As he started the carriages off in its race.
All the day long the big sawmill rumbled
As the sawyer made lumber of different kinds.
All the day long the steam boilers grumbled
As they furnished the power to make the mill grind.
Some of the logs he sawed into fencing,
Some into rustic and siding and planks,
Some into scantling, and some to build houses,
Some to build granaries, barns, and tanks.
All the day long he kept the mill humming;
No time was lost for he did his best
And soon he knew that the day's end was coming,
For the sun made long shadows as it sank in the West.
Calmly the sawyer closed the steam throttle
As the big whistle blew the six o'clock blast
And he tho't to himself as he pulled off his jumper,
That no man had beat that day's work in the past.
Slowly he wended his way to his bunk house
And thought to himself, Are things just as they seem?
And then he waked up as he stirred in his arm chair,
And, lo! his big day's work had been a dream.
*As every board was sawn from the log, the log was moved by screws to cut another board.
In the meantime, I had been appointed Superintendent of the Lakeside ditch, and all my time was taken up attending to my duties in locating weak places in the banks and fixing headgates, repairing checks and keeping time of the men. This work was done in the fall of 1876. My brother Fred and I had done a lot of work the previous fall of 1875.
By the time the ditch was in repair, my brothers had all the fall plowing done and the winters wood had been provided. We were all looking anxiously for rain; we looked hopefully at every cloud in the sky and at every circle around the moon or sun. All along through December and January we had wind storms and frost and fog, but we had no rain except perhaps a half inch in January, which started the grain up in some places. We looked in vain for some water to come in the ditch, but no water came.
We, in company with other settlers, went up to the foothills where the water came out of the mountains and cleaned out the channels of brush and weeds to coax a little water down. There was no hay, no crop of hay for the coming season, for it was that ever to be remembered dry year of 1877.
Old Farmer's Reverie
Old Farmer filled and lighted his pipe
Sat wearily down in his old arm chair.
He watched the blue rings of smoke in its flight
As it vanished from sight in the evening air.
He thought of the days when he drove his old plow team
And turned o'er the furrows of rich virgin soil
And thought as he patiently followed the plow beam
That soon he'd be paid for all of his toil.
He thought of his wife so true and so helpful,
Who did all she could to lighten his care,
And his heart missed a beat as he thought of a failure
To give her the things that were really her share.
He thought of the time when he was first was her lover
How his heart leaped for joy when she gave him a smile,
And he made up his mind on as he thought over and over
He would ask, Would she be his helpmate all of the While?
Oh! the ecstatic moment when he heard her soft answer
That made him as happy as Isaac of old,
And he was sure he had gained a great treasure
More precious to him than silver or gold.
He thought of the happiness that she had brought him
As days passed along and was measured by years,
And he drew his sleeve hastily under his hat brim
For he felt that old eyes were filling with tears.
He tho't of the days of disaster and trouble,
Of failure of crops and of deb's left unpaid,
How he braced himself up with her hand on his shoulder
When he heard all the comforting words that she said.
Cheer up, my dear boy, the clouds will all vanish
And things will turn better for us I am sure
So keep up your courage and don't get downhearted
And you will be glad you had faith to endure.
He thought of his son just reaching young manhood
Whose love of his country to his young heart appealed,
And now away off beyond the wide ocean he's sleeping
Under the poppies in Flanders red field.
He thought of his Daughter so winsome and lovely
Who cast aside fame for her love of mankind,
Now in a far distant mission she is teaching
The downtrodden heathen a Savior to find.
He plowed all day long till darkness came o'er him.
Unhitched from his plow to take care of his team,
When his wife touched his shoulder and then he awakened
He had lived his life over as one in a dream.
Tulare Lake was then about its highest level for it covered all of the land on which now stands the cities of Corcoran and Stratford. But it had receded somewhat during the fall of 1876 leaving a strip of wet land around the edge of perhaps one hundred yards or more wide. Some of the settlers went down and seeded those wet strips that they might raise a little hay for the next season. After this was done we heard of what was then called a rich silver mine, called Darwin, over in Inyo County about three hundred miles away. We heard that there was demand for nearly everything in the line of provision; hay, grain, flour, potatoes, etc. We fitted out two - eight mule teams and loaded them with barley and started across the mountains for Darwin. A large part of the road was narrow mountain road, very crooked and steep. Many times we had to double teams. We traveled over the noted Green Horn mountain road to Kernville on the Kern river, forded the Kern river for there was no bridge. We crossed over a high ridge into South Kern river, thence up the South Kern river to a station called Kanebreak, and out through Walker's pass into the Mohave desert.
Nearly all of the way over the mountains, thousands of buzzards were flying in the air looking for dead sheep, for the drouth in the valley forced the sheep men to drive their flocks to the mountains and many sheep perished on the way. After getting over into the Mojave valley which was mostly desert, we were obliged to haul water along in barrels to give our mules water, on stretches of desert too long to drive the teams without water. We arrived in Darwin in about twenty-one days, spent two days or more disposing of our loads of barley at six cents per pound. We paid at the rate of sixty dollars per ton for hay. And it cost us twelve and one-half cents per head every time we watered our mules and fifty cents per meal at the eating houses. I don't know what they charged for whiskey at the saloons of which there were plenty for I did not sample any. After we got ready to start for home I came on ahead on horseback because my wedding day was set for the twentieth of May and I was anxious to be on hand. But I got caught in a snowstorm on the desert and my horse got foundered and I had to leave him in a way station until our teams came by. Fortunately a man came along with two horses and a light wagon and gave me a lift as far as Visalia. I was two days late at my own wedding, they could not do much without me at the wedding for there was no substitute handy; although there were two fellows who would been willing to take my place.
0ne week after my wedding day I again started out on another trip to the same place, Darwin Mines, but with a lot more confidence and experience. We made four trips to those mines that season and cleared enough money over expenses to pay up our grocery bills at home, and some feed and seed for the next seeding time. There was yet nearly two months left before seeding time. We hauled lumber to Fresno from toll house East of Fresno. As I have mentioned before, we farmed a small strip of land on the margin of Tulare lake and raised a few tons of hay in the Spring of 1877, and finally the winter of 1878 came with good rains, and again our courage was renewed. We had plenty of ditch water and raised a fair crop. And in company with my father-in-law, E. J. Dibble, bought a threshing machine driven by horsepower, which we operated for about eighty-five days again in 1879 which was another dry season. We farmed on the margin of Tulare lake, but this time a greater acreage, for the waters of this lake had receded more and more, leaving a wider strip of moist land, and many of the settlers took up strips of land, the water had receded leaving the land on which the town of Corcoran now stands.
And we raised a crop of barley on in 1880 we attempted to farm the margin of the lake land, but we were driven out by flood water. In 1881 rainfall was plentiful and crops abundant, and we look an interest in another threshing machine and operated in San Luis County and in Santa Maria Valley, and in Santa Barbara County. We followed the threshing business nearly every season, in different parts of the country, and always relying on the lake in case of emergency, until the rich wet land of the Tulare lake seemed to have gotten into our blood. And in company of my two sons (now grown up) we branched out pretty strong. More or less successful until the two flood years of 1906 and 1907 when about everything we had was at stake, and we had exhausted our resources, we were flooded out. We were down but not out, for the lure of the rich land still had its hold on us and we tried again and again as opportunity offered, always hoping like the gold miner that there would be a rich strike. In 1920, we raised a good crop on the lake and sold wheat as high in price as twenty-two dollars and twenty cents per bushel. Refering again to some of the humorous experiences on lake farming, I will relate one. After waiting one season until along in February, when all hope of raising grain on the plains was past, we again resolved to farm margin of wet lake land. So we moved part of our equipment down to the point on the margin consisting of some seed grain, a load of hay, and a movable manger. The next load consisted of our camp equipment, consisting of some shake panels for shelter, side walls, a stove, table, and cooking utensils, mattress, and bedding. And for lack of a bedstead, the bedding and mattress was placed on the ground. We got this ready that forenoon, intending to come again in the afternoon to be ready to begin seeding for the next morning. On our arrival again in the afternoon, we found that our claim had been jumped by an enormous hog, who was helping himself to our seed grain. We had two dogs along which we set after the hog. They worried the hog until he took refuge in the shack. As the hog went into the shack he ran under the table which was just high enough to be carried on his back. And with this table on his back he ran head first into the stove, he knocked the stove over, landed squarely on the mattress and bedding, and there he planted himself, turning himself around as the dogs worried him. One of the boys yelled out, Say I don't want that hog for a bedfellow, not on your life. Well, we backed a wagon up close to the hog and made a lasso of a rope we had, and as one of the boys threw the lasso, the hog grabbed it in his mouth just back of his big tusks. We tied the rope to the wagon axel and started the team. The hog was still standing on the bedding with his feet braced. And when the team started pulling him out, he brought the bedding with him. We dragged that hog for nearly a quarter of a mile to the nearest bunch of tules and finally got him to let go of the rope. We went back to reorganize our camp.
We raised a pretty good crop of wheat that year, but had to keep continual watch to protect it from the hogs. Incidentally, rustling hogs for awhile became quite a business and many a pork barrel was replenished with razor back pork. In the springtime during nesting time for wild ducks, the settlers would have plenty of eggs taken from the wild ducks nests. That is when he had ham and eggs and also fresh fish which was plentiful in the spring, that they came down the ditches and out into the grain fields, and even our own dogs learned how to catch fish (believe it or not.) The coyotes were so plentiful that we had to put our chicken roosts up on tall poles so the coyotes could not reach the chickens. And one occasion at the lake camp we left a poisoned bait under the chicken roost, and the next morning found two specimens of coyote on the ground. One day while waiting for a certain check of land to be covered with water, your writer in reflecting on past events in his life, penned the following lines.
I came to California in 1853
There was nobody in my crowd
But just the stork and me.
The clothes I wore when I arrived
Would make a nudist smile
And I dont know but that is where
The nudist got his style.
I took a job of milking
The first work of my life
And fed myself six times a day
Without a fork or knife.
I held that job of milking
About a year or so
A younger milker came along
And then I had to go.
Twas then the rustling began
And so from that time on
Twas hard to tell which was on top
My brother Fred or John.
I got a few days schooling
And learned my A B Cs
And settled all my problems
By that old rule of three.
Early in life I had desire
Some of the world to view
So came the horseless carriage
To historic Mussel Slough.
The Parking places every day
Were plenty but alas
The filling stations on the way
Sold booze instead of gas.
We first engaged in farming
On the banks of old Cross Creek
And there we lived on bread and beans
For many weary weeks.
The cabins that we lived in
Did everywhere abound
Some were so small we went outside
For room to turn around.
The water that we drank we got
From surface wells we dug
The half of it was microbes
The other half was mud.
The black gnats and mosquitos
Oh, say, they were a fright
The gnats got in their work by day
Mosquitos worked by night.
The flying ants and grease bugs
Did everywhere abide
The ants came in the afternoon
Grease bugs at eventide.
Oh, well, those days are long such past
And those who made the fight
Are old and gray and stooped worn
But I think they are all right.
And when my time has come to go
My work here is all through
Maybe they will plant my weary bones
On the bank of Mussel Slough.
Along about this time my brother Fred and I at the request of a sawmill man who was about to build a sawmill in the Sierra mountains, took a job of surveying and superintending the building of a mountain road to the mill site on which to move his lumber out. It took about two months to finish the road. And then after the road was ready to move the mill and get it ready to operate. My brother Fred acted as head sawyer for awhile and then a little later Fred and I built a shingle mill nearby and ran it the balance of the season up to the 4th of November, 1885, and closed down on account of winter weather. The next year, 1887, being a good grain season, we sold the shingle mill and again engaged in the farming game. With varying success from the old style header and the stationary threshing outfit using horses and mules. To the team tractor and then the gas combined harvester, where six men with a combine will harvest as much grain in a day as would require twenty-six men under the old system. I am not sure that modern machinery has been a benefit to mankind for it certainly displaced labor, and added to unemployment.
Refering back to the old days of transportation, in the
fifties and sixties, before we had any railroads all of the
transportation or nearly so, was done by freight teams, either
oxen or mules and horses, whichever was best adapted to the parts
of the country in which they operated. One of the main
points in Northern California to which freight could be delivered
by water was Stockton and from there South and Southeast and East
to points in Nevada. Another point was Los Angeles where
freight distributed by mule teams to point East and Northeast
into Inyo County. Among the noted freighters we mention
Nadau, a Frenchman of Los Angeles who had mule teams delivering
freight to different points Northeast, to Lone Pine, Darwin,
Borax Lake, Modoc, Death Valley, and other points. Another
noted freighter was old Nickolas Pritchard of Nevada who had a
thousand mules in harness. Luke Miguire was a noted
freighter from Stockton to Bakersfield. But the railroads
gradually displaced teams. I am calling to mind the
celebration of was the temporary terminal of the system.
The story is told of an old freighter, who had been freighting
from Stockton down the San Joaquin Valley and over the Green Horn
mountains to Kernville and he had an order from a Mr. Brown at
Kernville (a store keeper) to go to Fresno which was then the end
of the railroad for a load of freight. The old freighter's
name was Eph Johnson. He had crossed the plains from
Missouri in the late days of the Civil War and he had his oxen
all named after Rebel Generals - - - - - Jeff Davis, Beauregard,
General Lee, Jackson, General Hill, General Forest. Mr.
Johnson did not seem to know that the Civil War was over and he
still had a grouch at the Republican Party and everything he did
not like he would call a Black Republican. Upon
arriving at Fresno, Mr. Johnson saw for the first time in his
life a locomotive, and he immediately called it a Black
Republican Outfit, and made the remark that he could
outpull it with his oxteam. Some of the officials of the
Railroad who wanted a little sport said that he did really hitch
his eight oxen on to the locomotive to outpull it. The
Engineer, of course, was onto the joke, and it was said that when
Mr. Johnson gave the word for his oxen to pull, that the Engineer
turned the throttle of the locomotive open slowly and of course
the oxen began to spread out and Mr. Johnson shouted Whoa,
Whoa, you Black Republican outfit, I have got plenty of
you. I became acquainted with Mr. Johnson after that
on one of my trips to Darwin Mines. He admitted part of the
story, but said that he never hitched his oxen onto the
locomotive, but had said in a joking way that he believed it
could. In thinking over the past, I am writing a little
poem to my wife on our 60th Anniversary.