Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Ranch Life, about 1909

Threshing wheat on the Smith and Co. ranch, Franklin Co., Washington, about 1911

Jack rabbit round up, Smith and Co. "Big B" ranch on Columbia Flats

This is another excerpt from my grandmother's autobiography. Her father and mother divorced, and her mother had to find a way to support herself and her little girl. This section describes how they came to live on a ranch in Washington. The top photo is of harvest on the Smith Ranch, and the bottom shows a jackrabbit roundup.

Mother advertised for a job and this time she added practical nursing, though she had no experience in it. This wasn't good, because I couldn't be with her and had to be boarded out at various places. That was a very unhappy time in my life. I was five years old, very shy, and it was agony to be put in strange homes with strange people...

After nearly a year my mother's divorce was granted and she answered an ad for a housekeeper for L.D. Smith. He came to Spokane for the interview. Mother got the job, and even if she had misgivings, we could be together.

We took the train to Mesa, where a hired man was waiting to take us to the ranch. It was fifteen miles of sagebrush and sand, slow going. hot and dusty. Mr. Smith was not pleased to have a child along with a housekeeper, but made the best of it. The house had only one bedroom, and Mother and I slept there. Mr. Smith had turned his living room into a bed-sitting room, with all his possessions... There was a small kitchen area and a huge dining room to accommodate all the hired men. There were from six to eight men most of the time.

It was a strange lonely world. No grass. No trees. No flowers. Just miles and miles of sage brush and sand. Sand seeped into everything, even the food you ate. Your shoes and hair were always full of it. When the high winds blew it was not safe to be outside.

Our first weekend at the ranch was marred by a tragic event. Some poor man, desperate and down on his luck walked miles to find a roof high enough from which to hang himself. He found it in our Mill, where we ground wheat and had the deepest well in Franklin County.

We raised wheat on the ranch, a special strain that could grow without much rain. The ranch was huge, four sections, each section a mile square.

I had very few friends as our nearest neighbors were six miles away. That's not far today with cars and good roads, but we had no roads, just cleared strips of sand that drifted like snow and was even harder to walk through. I remember the hired man saying "You take one step forward and slide back two."

The few families that made up our social life were desperately poor and resentful of the huge Smith ranch with its acres of wheat, hired men, livestock, and a well. We had all the water we wanted. The homesteaders could not afford to drill wells. Wells had to be very deep in that dry country, and were very expensive. As a result people came from miles around with their wagons to buy water. The water wagons were buckboards, with big barrel containers built on them. Some of them leaked, and I wondered how much of the water made it back home.

In the fall we had butchering. One cow and several pigs were killed and processed. We smoked our own ham and bacon in our smokehouse. The rest of the meat was fried, then packed in grease to keep it airtight. It kept pretty well through the winter; we had no refrigeration. Summertime we ate lots of chicken and canned meat. I still hate canned corned beef and salmon. My biggest treat was to go to Hanford to buy wieners and get ice cream.

We had hundreds of huge jackrabbits, but they were not considered fit to eat. Along with coyotes and rattlesnakes, they were constantly waged war upon. Every so often the farmers would come with their guns and have a jackrabbit shoot. They would spread out in a solid line and flush out the rabbits as they walked. Hundreds were killed this way, crated up and sent to Spokane for cat and dog food. The ladies always provided a hot meal, and it was one of our few social events.


Anonymous said...

At times her description seems so alien to our reality that she could be speaking about another planet.

Torrie said...

Hi! My name's Torrie, and I love reading your blog. I, too, have done some family history work and just find it fascinating. I'm a member of the LDS (or Mormon) church, and use its family history website all the time. You probably already know about it, but it's Hope you have a good Sunday! I love reading your blog!